Once Upon a Time, There Were Three Little Girls

Ah yes, three beautiful women who will go out into the world and do your bidding, while you remain a mysterious, detached voice on the other end of a phoneline. It’s the ultimate macho power fantasy.

Well no, actually it isn’t, but work with me here. The other weekend I glutted myself on Charlie’s Angels.

But first though, a chance for you all to be good people and go sign a petition telling PayPal to stop letting hatemongers use their service to raise funds. Go on. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Anyway, those Angels. I’m pretty sure I watched the TV show when it was on way back in the 70s. I don’t have any clear memories of doing so, but it was the sort of thing I would have watched at that time, no doubt telling myself that it was striking a blow for equality by allowing women to take action roles (and casually glossing over the fact that the plots usually involved them going undercover in scenarios where skimpy costumes were obligatory – apparently health clubs and gymnasiums are hotbeds of criminal activity).

A while back I had an idea for a story about Charlie’s Dark Angels, former hookers and victims of abuse who would administer ‘street justice’ to assorted pimps, peds and pervs. But we digress, and digression is bad for the soul. If the idea appeals and you want to write the story yourself, please, be my guest.

I started my televisual celebration with a viewing of some episodes from Series 3, which first aired in 1978, with Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd as the Angels, squired by the redoubtable Bosley (who cares who played him?). It’s not the sort of thing I would normally purchase, but I saw the six disk set going for a mere £2 in Morrisons a year or so back, and couldn’t resist.

The whole thing seems horrendously formulaic. Guaranteed that either Bosley or one of the Angels will get romantically involved during the course of the investigation. Guaranteed that, although murder will be involved, the police won’t interfere with the Angels going about their business. Guaranteed that in the days before the internet, Charlie will be able to unearth some vital snippet of information by using his computer. And, to my amazement, those Angels are multi-talented – they can ski, drive racing cars, dance and sing to professional standard, ride horses etc. It really was all incredibly silly, and did I need to wait thirty years to realise that?

Charlie’s Angels (2000)

Ah, but the big screen relaunch is another kettle of fish altogether, with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as the Angels, and Bill Murray as Bosley. I saw it at the cinema on release, and like it now every bit as much as I did then. It realises the essential silliness of the concept and plays to it right from the start, with Barrymore on a plane undercover as an African dignitary and pooh poohing the idea of films made from old TV shows, neatly seguing into an action sequence that parodies the Bond movies. Tongue remains firmly in cheek throughout, with each Angel developing a distinct and feisty character – Natalie is a lovesick dancing fool, Alex is a dominatrix in training and a lousy cook, while Dylan just can’t seem to find Mr Right. The plot, in which they go about tracking down a missing gizmo and thwarting an attempt on Charlie’s life, is just a pretext for some nifty sfx fight scenes, riffing on The Matrix among others, and a rock video sensibility, complete with loud and proud soundtrack. It’s fast paced and sexy, but most of all it’s funny, and the ability to take the piss out of itself, along with a healthy dose of innuendo, makes me overlook many other shortcomings. It even has a half decent blooper reel tagged on the end of the main feature. Everyone seems to be having a blast making this movie, and that carries over to the viewer.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

Bernie Mac replaces Murray as Bosley for this sequel, which was every bit as much fun as the first one and, if that’s possible, even more silly. My own viewing experience was somewhat stressful, as the DVD kept acting up – jumping past the Diaz and Demi Moore beach scene was cruel enough, but freezing on a close up of Bernie Mac was borderline sadistic. I finally got it to behave by playing the DVD with the subtitles. The plot has rogue Angel Moore looking to sell details of the Witness Protection Programme to rival crime families, with a subplot about a bad guy from Dylan’s past out for revenge and the Thin Man from the previous film coming out of the woodwork to do good this time around. All completely and utterly barmy, with the tone once again set by the opening sequence in which tanks, rockets, helicopters and a bucking bull all play their part. The comedy is still to the fore, albeit I found Mac a poor substitute for the deadpan Murray, with the innuendo cranked up to 11. John Cleese does a guest turn as Liu’s father, and the scene where boyfriend Matt LeBlanc explains about her career is an example of crossed wires that would have done the Two Ronnies proud in their heyday, rivalled only by Diaz’s declarations of how much she enjoys surfing (though she could be talking about something else entirely). My favourite line came from LeBlanc, as an action film star explaining that his new movie will be great because it ‘has thirteen writers’. Full Throttle had only three, for which I’m truly grateful. I have surreal memories of this film being discussed on Newsnight Review, with poet Tom Paulin going through all sorts of intellectual contortions to explain enjoying it without mentioning the humour or the hot women.

Okay, we’re done. I need to go and wish The Imaginary Girlfriend a happy birthday before she goes to bed, and then I’ll see if I can think of another two female friends to call while I’m in a Charlie state of mind.

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4 Responses to Once Upon a Time, There Were Three Little Girls

  1. Totally with you on the two Charlie’s Angels films – they’re very underrated. They’re like chocolate boxes, packed with funny little treats. Shame there was never a third, or that more films didn’t follow their lead.

  2. You wouldn’t believe how many comics I’ve read over the last couple of weeks… And how few arguments I’ve got into!

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