- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

1/2 star out of four

TITLE: "Charlie's Angels"

RATING: PG-13 (Frequent sexual innuendo and vulgarity; fleeting profanity; interludes of graphic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by McG

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

''Charlie's Angels," the latest refinement in moronic escapism, prompts futilely pessimistic thoughts about the degeneration of the movie medium, a never-ending work in progress.

To take the comprehensive gloomy view, here we are in the early stages of the second century of professional filmmaking, and where has the promise of the magic lantern led us? To a supremely pointless and inane adventure spectacle celebrating the obviously bogus deductive and athletic prowess of three movie starlets, derived from a fashionably klunky television crime series of a generation earlier.

Is this a great civilization or what?

A kind of all-girl revamp of "Mod Squad," which began in the late 1960s and lasted five seasons, "Charlie's Angels" began in the late 1970s and ran out of gas after five seasons.

Exceptionally exploitable at the outset because of the pinup and hairstyle celebrity of one cast member, Farrah Fawcett, the show got into a bemusing habit of revolving-door casting.

An instant photogenic sensation, Miss Fawcett wearied of her contract after the first season. She managed to depart prematurely, and newly recruited Angels became almost an annual novelty. Of the original trio only Jaclyn Smith went the distance.

The updates portrayed by Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu are so modern that they need only first names: Dylan, Natalie and Alex, respectively. It might be amusing to mistake them for literal offspring of the original Angels, but they merely have inherited similar, souped-up, digitally enhanced jobs as ace undercover sleuths.

Angels 2000 work for the same invisible but inexplicably adored employer, Charlie Townsend, still coyly dubbed by John Forsythe, who might as well assure continuity by recording advance instructions for Angels 2025, 2050 and 2075. Bill Murray, presumably tendered an offer he couldn't refuse, assumes the role of house eunuch Bosley. How can I put this? Mr. Murray's whimsical presence alone does not save the show.

The Angels establish their preposterous credentials with a daring airplane caper and sky-diving getaway. This downbeat sets a pattern of zero credibility that evidently agrees with the busily inept director, a music-video and commercial luminary who calls himself McG, perhaps short for McGag.

Miss Barrymore's consort, Tom Green, enters early as a goofy sailor named Chad, captain of a miniature tug called Betsy, but he remains out to sea both literally and figuratively.

Miss Liu is matched with Matt LeBlanc of the "Friends" series. Two gags dominate their fitful courtship scenes: He's an actor who doesn't know that Alex really does all the action stuff he pretends to do in the movies, and Alex can't bake a lick, the poor dear.

Miss Diaz specializes in wiggling her behind and playing dumb, a boon to innuendo.

One promising, humanizing touch is never adequately exploited: a budding romance with Luke Wilson, whose easygoing presence did a lot for Drew Barrymore in "Home Fries."

Charlie's big mission for the Angels is a rescue caper that probably should arouse early suspicion in such case-hardened pros. Alas, it doesn't. A technology tycoon played by Sam Rockwell, the movie's wittiest performer, may have been kidnapped by a telecommunications tycoon played by Tim Curry, a wasted comic weapon. Object: a voice-ID gizmo that will revolutionize the security game. Ho-hum.

The Angels seem to need a refresher course in evaluating the sincerity of their clients. Kelly Lynch is so weird as Mr. Rockwell's allegedly distraught colleague that warning signals should go off in the audience at least a half-hour before the Angels get wise.

The Angels still are supposed to operate in the normal-gravity world, so attributing fantastic leaps, flips and kicks to their repertoire of fighting skills looks hallucinatory at best. Miss Diaz makes the funniest faces while supposedly drop-kicking opponents.

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