Of course, its terrible -- but did it have to be this bad? Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu are Charlies newly configured Angels, post-feminist riffs on roles first memorialized by Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. Theres no direct correspondence between the old and the new -- Barrymore is the tough babe, Diaz plays whats been described in production accounts as the scientific one, which seems to mean that she has a working brain, while Lius defining trait seems to be that she isnt white. As before, the three Angels work for an anonymous millionaire (surprisingly, the new economy hasnt bumped him up a few billions) who contacts his employees through what looks to be the exact same speakerphone from the old television series. Bill Murray, mugging lazily, plays the Angels go-between, Bosley, a casting decision likely meant to goose the films hoped-for hip quotient. Murray is too obviously bored with the material to give it the benefit of his irony, however, and the performance is as incessantly, even aggressively, bland as the movie itself.
In the three years since the project was announced, industry columns have burbled about a difficult shoot, from the testicular-cancer diagnosis for Barrymores boyfriend, comic Tom Green, to a much-publicized, much-denied spat between Liu and Murray. Fewer column inches were devoted to the news that the script underwent 16 to 30 rewrites (Ryan Rowe, Ed Solomon and John August are the guys who finally staked their claim). Or that the director hired to take the Angels higher is a commercial and music-video veteran who goes by the McDiminutive McG, a.k.a. Joseph McGinty Nichol. Until now, McG -- his Directors Guild credit -- has been best known for the Khaki Country Gap commercial in which fresh-scrubbed men and women line-dance to Dwight Yoakam. Perhaps it was their nimble maneuvers that inspired co-producer Barrymore, under the aegis of her company, Flower Films, to tap McG to shepherd her and her co-stars through their countless splits, high kicks and martial-arts pirouettes. Certainly it wasnt because McG can direct a movie, as is evident whenever the actors talk to one another in a scene in which the dialogue isnt drowned by squealing tires or throbbing bass lines.
In Charlies Angels, Diaz kicks the highest, Liu smiles the least, and Barrymore does an ungainly moonwalk. All three women flaunt Emma Peel fetish wear and shiny hair that, inexplicably, never gets in the way of their daredevil moves. The supporting cast -- Tim Curry, Kelly Lynch, Crispin Glover, Matt LeBlanc -- are either underused or badly used, and Tom Greens five screen minutes are too long by four and a half. The shambles of a story involves a kidnapped genius (one of the films conceptual jokes is that hes played by the low-wattage Sam Rockwell), some corporate intrigue and a bitter historical wound. In the original series, the whole thing would have been wrapped up in an hour, including commercials, but here it takes 98 tedious minutes, including a flabby James Bond--style pre-credit sequence with a winking reference to T.J. Hooker: The Movie. Why, wonders one character, do they keep making movies out of old TV shows? Its a question that cuts to the very existence of this dud, which is being touted as one of its studios bigger seasonal gambits.
In an interview with Columbia Pictures chairwoman Amy Pascal, the Los Angeles Times Claudia Eller wrote that Pascal is ultra-sensitive about criticisms from her detractors that Charlies Angels is yet another girl movie, after bombing with such female-driven films including 28 Days, Hanging Up and Girl, Interrupted. This is a movie about totally positive female energy, Pascal was quoted as saying, and I think its an important thing that girls can be great at everything they do. They can be in love, be tough, have jobs and not sacrifice anything and be able to fly through the air and look great and be brilliant. Its been a bad year for Pascal, an interesting executive whose choices have gotten dumber the worse her movies have done -- from Little Women to Charlies Angels, from Clueless to Hanging Up. I really want this one to work because it hasnt been the worlds greatest year, Pascal told Eller. It would be great for this to be the beginning of the turnaround. And its my story. If its startling to read that the chairwoman of a major movie studio believes Charlies Angels is her story, its even more so if youve seen the movie and witnessed Barrymore tongue a steering wheel. Think of it as progress, Hollywood-style: When stupid movies happen to smart women, its no longer just men who are to blame.
In the seemingly boundless realm of Hollywood vanity projects, few are as genuinely eccentric as The Worlds Greatest Sinner, an independent movie written, directed, produced and starring character actor Timothy Carey and released in 1962. Instantly recognizable from his basset-hound mug and lachrymose Brooklyn whine, Carey, who died in 1994, is probably best known as the sharpshooter who takes out the racehorse in Stanley Kubricks The Killing (1956). A year later, Kubrick cast the actor as one of the soldiers condemned to the firing squad in Paths of Glory -- Careys Private Ferol is the one sobbing, comically, horribly, unrelentingly, alongside the priest during one of that films bravura tracking shots.
Carey began acting in the early 1950s, and lucked out with bit parts in films such as Crime Wave and East of Eden before securing a kind of immortality with the two Kubrick films. Although he would go on to appear in One-Eyed Jacks, Careys subsequent run would have remained essentially unremarkable if John Cassavetes hadnt given him meaty supporting roles in Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. While these two films, along with the pair he made with Kubrick, would be enough to sustain Careys memory, the existence of The Worlds Greatest Sinner gives that memory a certain something extra. Carey embarked on the project in 1958, finishing it three years later. I play an atheist who gets peoples attention by playing music, he once said of his role. I graduated from a rock & roller to a politician . . . he ran for president with God written on his cuffs. I played the part of God Hilliard. I had this cult. And then some -- The Worlds Greatest Sinner has since gone on to accrue its own small following, and there are enough moments of touching weirdness in the film to explain why.
Carey plays an insurance salesman named Clarence Hilliard who becomes a rock & roll singer--cum--crusader whose wiggles, lame suit and oil-slick hair are inspired by Elvis Presley and whose jive is an incoherent pastiche of street-corner huckster evangelism. (You like a job following me? To where? To eternal life.) The dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, the editing and the sound are as crude as the story is nonsensical. The film is narrated by a stentorian-voiced boa constrictor, and the music is by Zappa, going by his last name only. Still, despite its technical shortcomings, and despite too many passages that simply stall out -- moments during which it feels as if Carey himself had lost focus -- The Worlds Greatest Sinner is more often enjoyable than not. Some of the pleasure is of the sort that fills magazines such as Psychotronic Video (Issue 6 has a nice rambling interview with Carey by Mike Murphy and Johnny Legend), but theres more to the film than its camp fizz, namely real passion. It may be terrible, but at least its not dishonest.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.