Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, ...

In Charlie’s Angels, Drew Barrymore, as the buxom, red haired Dylan, the cuddliest in a trio of ultrababe private investigators, is roped to a chair, facing half a dozen henchmen who look poised to take extremely nasty advantage of her. As the brutes advance, and as her tied up hands secretly fiddle with a cigarette lighter, she stalls them — by sticking her legs, clad in long black pants, right into the air, cocking them open like a V (presumably for victory rather than virgin).

Holy PG-13 flash! The men stop and gawk, instinctively halted by the vision of a weapon far superior to their own. After taunting them a bit more, Drew stands up in her chair and proceeds to bash, twirl, and leap, demolishing her foes, then adding, as the coup de grace, a sweetly gung ho ”And that’s kickin’ your ass!” It is indeed.

The movie reconstitutes the bare bones of the tacky yet revolutionary Aaron Spelling TV series, which ran from 1976 to ’81. Like the characters on the show, bubblicious Natalie (Cameron Diaz), poker faced Alex (Lucy Liu), and elfin Dylan (Barrymore) are a luscious trio of hothouse chicklet undercover agents who work for Charlie, a daddy/ deity mystery boss who communicates entirely by speaker phone — a radical concept for the age of Jimmy Carter.

Back then, the notion of scantily clad pinup crime fighters parading their hot bods, feathered locks, and perfect teeth through the glare of prime time carried such a blatant cheesecake charge that the show, even as it celebrated its heroines’ weekly victories, seemed to be ridiculing the pretense that they were anything more than glassy eyed human dress up dolls. In a strange way, the entire thrust of ”Charlie’s Angels” as a pop phenomenon came down to Farrah Fawcett-Majors’ hair.

In the movie, all that faintly exploitative strut and jiggle has been turned on its head. Natalie, Alex, and Dylan are boy crazy girly girls who go through more costume/ identity changes than Barbie and RuPaul combined, but the outfit hopping doesn’t demean them; it fulfills them.

It’s now a triumphant gag that when they’re receiving orders from Charlie or playfully ribbing Bosley (Bill Murray), his acerbic lieutenant and go between, their banal enthusiastic chitchat has almost no personality, but when they pose as a yodeling telegram trio of jailbait German maidens in lederhosen, all to get a global hotshot’s retinal impression, they’re so knowing in the lustrous self mockery of their disguise that the joke isn’t on them. It’s on the entire world of men who can instantly be brought to their knees by the grand mirage of a pretty girl striking a pose.

Barrymore has become a true comedienne flirt, as innocently knowing as Monroe, and Lucy Liu, as the sternest of the three, has a great moment in which she parades through an office like a CEO dominatrix, making grateful slaves of her corporate drones. But ”Charlie’s Angels” is finally Cameron Diaz’s movie. Her Natalie has a heart as insecure as her body is smokin’, and the splendor of Diaz is the way those two sides meet in her sun dappled smile; it says, ”I’ll melt for you — if you can handle me!”

The film’s highlight has nothing to do with defeating criminals. It’s when Natalie, out with a doting bartender (Luke Wilson), takes the stage at ”Soul Train” and starts to gyrate, with go go exuberance, to the music. She’s a white girl trying to be ”funky,” utterly failing at it, and then, when you look again, succeeding because her radiance has made her as funky as she thinks she is. That’s not just an Angel — that’s a star.

Charlie's Angels
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 92 minutes
  • McG