Few of 2001's films had as much pre-release baggage as Charlie's Angels, with its unsubstantiated tales of on-set rivalry, hissy fits and slapping. Away from the negative publicity, however, and ignoring the adage that no finished product can survive such hype untainted, is the movie actually worth your while? Well, yes and no, really. While the project's curious must-see factor should rescue it from plummeting to the level of obscurity associated with 1998's The Avengers (and, indeed, there's a pungent whiff of that misguided venture about this), the end result is muddled, to say the least; visually stylish, sporadically entertaining, yet all-too-frequently painful.
From the opening sequence, when Barrymore dons one of the most implausible disguises known to man, it's obvious where this is heading: straight down the road marked 'self-parody'. Somewhere along the line, someone has hit upon the notion that all things '70s are so gleefully kitsch and ironic that they deserve to be treated as such. Thus the ensuing action is peppered with one-liners and bon mots, usually offset with a self-congratulatory wink to camera. Yet the script is so unashamedly clunky, you have to wonder how much better this could have been had it focused more on the action side rather than trying to send itself up the whole time. Quite aside from anything else, only Murray - easily the best thing in the movie - truly rises above the level of the material.
As for the girls, it's all too clear that there's a fine line between substance and set-dressing here, given that any attempt by the perky threesome to do the action heroine thing is offset by endless gratuitous buttock close-ups and slow-motion tossing of hair. For the record, Liu stops swinging her raven locks just long enough to emerge with the most dignity, and while Diaz kicks some impressive butt, the rest of the material's hardly a stretch; both she and Barrymore are confined to disco-pratfalls, topless tree-tumbling and solving impossible clues that seem to have come from the Scooby-Doo school of logic.
That's not to say Charlie's Angels is without its moments; the fight set-pieces are fast and furious, there's a nicely judged red herring, and the last half-hour, full of beat-'em-up, blow-'em-up shenanigans finally gives the blockbuster-hungry audience its money's worth. But in the end, Charlie's Angels comes across as little more than a $90 million pantomime, all but lacking audience participation and a comedy cow costume. And in these days, when moviegoers demand more of their mindless event movies, that's not necessarily a good thing.