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Sunday, Nov. 26, 2000

Angels, where are you?

Special to The Japan Times

Once upon a time, in a fabled age known as the '70s, there was a TV program called "Charlie's Angels," and it was about three female detectives who wore revealing outfits. Make no mistake about it, that was the program's raison d'etre: cleavage and jiggle. And a generation of American males tuned in.

No matter how you slice it, the program was about ogling. Very politically incorrect these days, but those were the '70s -- bygones! Obviously for producer/star Drew Barrymore, whose labor of love has been to bring "Charlie's Angels" to the big screen, the Angels are something else entirely.

As Barrymore so eloquently explained at a private party in Shibuya following the debut of her film at the Tokyo International Film Festival: "This film is a perfect example of how you can make your dreams come true: to wanna go to work, to wanna have fun, to wanna laugh, to wanna kick ass, to wanna be empowered, to wanna be a woman who loves women, but who loves men, and, um, and to actually feel like your passion and your burning desires and the compulsive need to do well in life is going into something positive."


Costar Lucy Liu had a similarly profound take on the film: "This is an action movie that's also comedic, and it shows women in a very strong place, that you can have a career, that you can go out and have a social life, and you can balance the two. And I think that's really important for women of today."


There you have it. "Charlie's Angels" reinvented as feminist statement of empowerment. Which makes about as much sense as using "Rebel Without a Cause" to promote safe driving among teens. Didn't they get it? The program was about sex, dammit, not careers! And the new "Charlie's Angels" -- while it had some high-energy "Matrix"-influenced martial arts scenes and a decent sense of humor -- just isn't sexy.

Now, I'll confess, I was one of those males whose nascent sexuality fixated on the original program's trio of ultra-vixens: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson. But it wasn't just me: Fawcett went on to become the pin-up girl of the disco decade and inspire 20 years' worth of bad feathered-hair fashion among Texan cheerleaders (the American equivalent of Shibuya kogyaru).

Now Drew Barrymore wasn't even old enough to watch TV when the Angels were at their prime, and it seemed she had no clue.

So as she babbled on, I had to resist the burning desire to grab a mike from a Sony handler and proclaim: "Drew . . I've seen Farrah Fawcett. I've ogled Farrah Fawcett. And you, madam, are no Farrah Fawcett." (Of course, after insubordination like that, Sony probably would have had Konishiki -- that evening's rent-a-tarento -- sit on me until I was flatter than nori.)

No diss intended to Drew; she's a cutie -- but the inability to comfortably embrace sexuality without qualifying and undercutting it means that none of these Angels will transfix their generation in the way Farrah did, and that's a crying shame.

Lucy Liu, well, all right: She's an improvement on the turtleneck-clad Kate Jackson (that was to signify she was "the brainy one"). It's hard to imagine Jackson cowing a room full of corporate drones, as Lucy does in the movie, clad in black leather and wielding a riding crop. But this dominatrix sensuality actually typifies what the film has on offer, as becomes clear after viewing the umpteenth close-up of an Angel's black leather boot slamming into some guy's head. If they'd had Russ Meyer (of "Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!" fame) directing, this might have worked, but as is, it's all wham, bam, no thank you ma'am.

The movie almost caught the right spirit in a fun scene in which the airhead/lab scientist/Lolita Angel played by Cameron Diaz gets out of bed in the morning and -- in pigtails and little red undies -- starts dancing around and wiggling her butt directly into the camera lens. It's very trashy, very silly and perfect parody of the original. Unfortunately, the movie focuses on turning the stars into three Uber-chick Terminatrixes. Again, it is the American instinct -- formed somewhere between puritanism and political correctness -- to eschew sexuality and seek release in violence. (Maybe that's why Bill Clinton started bombing Iraq after he had to stop seeing Monica.)

Surprisingly, the male costars in the bit parts upstaged Lucy and Drew at the press party. Cult idol Crispin Glover received hoots and hollers and seemed reliably weird as he waved his hands about distractedly when asked to talk about any behind-the-scenes episodes that occurred during filming; "Oh, uh, heh, well, I, uh, I feel like I could, but if I, uh -- are you supposed to answer things in such a way that . . . ? I feel like I could really get myself in trouble so I'd better not say things, all right?"

Comedian Tom Green (Drew's main squeeze) meanwhile left the rigid MCs livid as he answered questions about the film with meaningless prattle about fishing and tried to tape the interpreter's mouth shut. The cake-taker was when he retreated into the crowd, responding to requests to return to the stage with falsetto cries of "I'm hiding!" They turned off his mike after that -- bad, Tom, bad! It takes a true talent to throw off the robotic precision of a corporate press conference; kudos to Green, who obviously comes from the Andy Kaufman school of obnoxious comedy.

I retreated to my glass of wine and held my peace as the press party came to a close and Barrymore blathered on: "This is the type of film that should make you feel really good, and sexy, and at the top of the world. Race in your cars, be with your best friends, go to the best parties, want to dress in the best clothes, and realize that you're just a dork at the end of the day. It wants to make you have a great, empowered energized time."

If this is empowerment, bring back the bimbos.

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