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Charlie’s Angels (2000)

by on 2010/04/01

If you had told me even a single day ago that I would no longer need to continue watching films in search of meaning, I would have said you were one nipple short of a Scaramanga.  Isn’t it strange and surprising, though, how so much can change so fast?

As I watched the credits roll on Charlie’s Angels, I wondered if my life would ever be the same.  In this brilliant inversion of yesteryear’s spy films, traditional gender politics find themselves in the sights of the New Hollywood’s sniper rifle.  Bill Murray stars as Bosley, manager of a detective agency, hands full with the field agents under his purview.  At the cusp of an equality-fraught new millennium, he finds his eminence subverted by his agents’ sense of entitlement which, he is all too well aware, can only lead to an inevitable explosion of entropic tragedy.

His own superior, the titular Charles Townsend (John Forsythe), represents the fully-emasculated male in modern society.  Unwilling (perhaps even unable) to subvert his own ideals, he takes refuge in plain sight, camouflaged and comforted by his own world of work.  From the confines of a small desktop box, he is able to communicate through the small airflow holes that keep him alive.

Joining them both on their quest to understand the distinction between being male and being a man, the cast is rounded out by Sam Rockwell, Tim Curry, Crispin Glover, Tom Green, Matt LeBlanc, Luke Wilson, LL Cool J, and a bravura tour-de-force appearance by Alex Trebek, resplendent in his original moustache.

While the movie is a fascinating exploration of the Jeopardy (!) faced by such men in our times, it is not entirely without fault.  Too often the proceedings veer off into inexplicable action beats, surreal set pieces, and a focus on less important characters that have little to do with the higher matters at hand.  These diversions take up as much as 90 to 95 percent of the film.  Were it not for the grander fundamentals, these irrational tangents would surely test a fellow’s patience.

Fortunately, such patience does not go unrewarded.  I can not emphasize enough how refreshing it is to see Bill Murray taking on such complex roles of late.  (In the macho sense of “refreshing” that is.)  This layered, challenging performance is just one in a series of gifts — yes gifts — he has given the movie-going public in recent years.  (Butch gifts, mind you.)  Driven by the collective insight of eighteen writers, and over the course of thirty drafts, we feel that he’s really on the verge of a miraculous insight here.

This reinterpretation of a little-known Seventies trifle has yielded new and unexpected depth.  But while it edges infinitesimally close to a universal truth, we are never insulted by the vulgarity of an intellectual exhibitionism.  As suggested by the movie-within-a-movie, T.J. Hooker, we must each find our own moment to look within, or even beyond, if we are to find a revelation.  In so doing, Charlie has found his own Angels, and soon our own unspoken longing hangs in the air like the stench of a methane-lousy hot air balloon:

[Insert super-ironic profundity here.]

* * * * *

Rated PG for adult situations and coarse language

98 minutes

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