The year 2000. Feels like yesterday and forever ago, right? As now, that year saw separate superhero films with Bruce Willis and the X-Men. As now, Will & Grace held down NBC’s Thursday lineup. As now, Republicans were obsessed with the Clintons. As now, Coldplay was a thing. Even JNCOs are storming the castle again.
And as now, another Charlie’s Angels movie — this one co-written and directed by Elizabeth Banks and toplined by Kristen Stewart who, in 2000, had just an uncredited role as Ring Toss Girl in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. (Points for progress: No more Flintstones films in the works.) Ahead of that “requel,” Sony Pictures has reissued its first two installments of the cinematic franchise — itself an adaptation of the iconic ‘70s TV series through which co-stars Kate Jackson, Jacklyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett once fueled so many pubescent fantasies. Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle recently made their respective debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray and 1080p Blu-ray.
I first saw Charlie’s Angels on Election Day in 2000. A big Tuesday, and not only because it was discount-ticket night. Indeed, no one really knew just how quickly electoral contention, encroaching terrorism and evaporating discourse would become everyday staples. Back then, it was just easy to just rev up for Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore kicking some ass while bumping some Destiny’s Child in a kitschy, kick-butt movie with its tongue firmly wedged in cheek. And to chuckle, too, at the “professional” moniker of the man who made it — McG, whose claim to fame was co-writing Sugar Ray’s “Fly” and directing some music videos. (McG is still around these days, too — albeit making terrible Netflix films like Rim of the World.) For me, the original Charlie’s Angels film feels like both the end of an era and a barometer of business as usual.
Thankfully, what remains easily McG’s best movie locks into similar notions. “Another movie based on an old TV show,” a character played by LL Cool J scoffs during the opening minutes, tsk-tsking an in-flight film choice of T.J. Hooker: The Movie. Within moments, this movie will throw Korn, Wham and Motley Crüe on the soundtrack, throw a few people out of the airplane without a chute, and mock the mask-pulls of a Mission: Impossible film that was hot just a few months earlier. (Again, as now: People are still looking forward to those.)
Charlie’s Angels embraces the utter disposability of its severe necklines, sheer pantylines and silly plotlines. The plot boils down to a simple revenge fantasy in which dorky but deadly Natalie (Diaz), refined but relentless Alex (Liu) and impulsive but incendiary Dylan (Barrymore) find themselves. It just feels right that it runs 90 minutes pre-credits, features Tom Green (then Barrymore’s fiancé) in a cameo as a boat captain, lets Sam Rockwell dance so much for no good reason other than that he can, and casts Crispin Glover as a feral henchman called the Thin Man whose sartorial snazz plays like a precursor to Kingsman. (Honestly, if anyone is trying too hard, it’s Bill Murray as the Angels’ handler, Bosley; Murray bowed out of the sequel after an infamous on-set row with Liu, replaced by Bernie Mac.)
There’s no origin-story slop about the Townsend Detective Agency or the beauties whom the enigmatically disembodied voice of Charles Townsend has assembled in his employ. Charlie’s Angels knows what you’re here to see: skimpy costumes where the nipple tape deserves a supporting credit; strong chemistry among its well-cast leads; and wire-work action sequences to make you chuckle at how Diaz and Barrymore can defy all known laws of physics.
You can consider Charlie’s Angels as either the loosened collar or tightened noose on lightweight American action films. Perhaps your response is contingent on whether you’ve seen its dreadful sequel. Where the first film is aggressively gleeful, Full Throttle feels like felonious assault — a cold, calculated and cobbled-together continuation from which all comedy and camaraderie has been sucked out. By the time Demi Moore — whose villainous comeback was a marketing fixture although the film pretends it’s a surprise — leaps from a building and flies through downtown L.A. like Neo in the Matrix, your brain will wave the white flag.
Nearly 20 minutes longer and drowning in a swamp of gobbledygook plotting, Full Throttle is co-written by the Wibberleys — a married screenwriting team responsible for some of the most execrable films of the 2000s, from The 6th Day and I Spy to The Shaggy Dog and G Force. The Wibberleys turn up on a screenwriter commentary track, joking that their participation is proof that Full Throttle had writers. They could just as easily still be gaslighting us.
McG also transmuted his visual exhilaration into exhaustion, the camera fawning all over its stars so much more often that they seemed to know raw sex appeal was all this had to offer. The unrated cut, available as an option on the Blu-ray, adds a few more slapped asses, motorboated bosoms, thrown elbows and bloodied mouths. Sadly, neither version edits out a terrible Nickelback cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” or a dirt-bike chase that makes Torque look medicated. A closing-credits montage ends with a Gatling-paced cutdown of the three stars laughing. By that point, it mirrors the psychosis you feel.
Charlie’s Angels arrived before everyone’s general color palettes ran blue and indeed, this one seems to have broken the knob on warm settings. Occasionally, the 4K transfer feels as soft as all the “fill my staff” and “stick it in my slot” puns. But from minuscule flickers of TV signal fuzz on the Columbia Pictures logo to sparkles of jewelry and dense dress patterns, the details are eye-popping. Take note when the Angels disguise themselves as a pit crew. From the cherry-red lipstick to their powder-blue jumpsuits, the High Dynamic Range refinements are on point without pushing things too far. All the plentiful pinks, reds and oranges erupt with pizzazz and panache. It’s an outstanding visual presentation. As if sensing no one would spring for the 4K price on Full Throttle, Sony has instead delivered that film’s scorched-and-torched visual scheme into a reasonably compelling 1080p picture. The aforementioned dirt-bike chase looks processed to the point that its hair will fall out. But that’s a function of the day’s filmmaking, not a fouled transfer.
A newly upgraded Dolby Atmos mix for Charlie’s Angels makes fine use of the soundfield — most amusingly in a scene where Alex plays corporate dominatrix to a bunch of dweeby office drones, most aggressively in a second-act explosion. Songs from the Prodigy and Fatboy Slim haven’t felt this forceful in years, either. That volume button might get a workout, though, as you try to ride out occasionally muted dialogue. Though less supple and robust, Full Throttle’s DTS-HD 5.1 mix hits with a wallop.
The Charlie’s Angels 4K disc transfers the extras from its initial Blu-ray release, including: a commentary track with McG and cinematographer Russell Carpenter; six featurettes, the most interesting of which are “The Master and the Angels” (about martial-arts choreographer Cheung-Yan Yuen (who also worked on 2003’s Matrix sequels) and “Wired Angels” (a breakdown of the numerous wire-work sequences); deleted scenes, outtakes, bloopers and music videos.
There’s also a brief scene from the newest Charlie’s Angels movie — also available as an extra on Full Throttle’s far-more-comprehensive cabal of extras. McG offers a commentary (with the option of telestrator accompaniment) as do the film’s writers. There is also “Angel-Vision Trivia,” a pop-up trivia track accompanying the film, and a dozen featurettes, including: ““XXX-Treme Angels,” which goes in-depth on the film’s xXx-aping dirt-bike sequence; “Angels Makeover: Hansen Dam,” a dissection of the film’s first (and only good) action setpiece; “Cameo-Graphy,” a guide to the film’s many cameos … of which only two are funny; “Full Throttle Jukebox,” which finds McG and music supervisor John Houlihan breaking down several song choices (yes, even Nickelback; and “Angels Film School,” which offers brief looks at the work done by the first assistant director, script supervisor, storyboard artist, creative advertising team, special effects supervisor, visual effects supervisor, drivers and stunt team.