& & by Ray Pride & & & &

The kick-crazed decamillion-dollar girl caper Charlie's Angels is not a movie for people who take themselves seriously. Smart dumb fun, it's as much like a classic American musical as it is a genuine Hong Kong martial arts vehicle. There's mayhem to spare -- forget the plot -- this movie, helmed by video director and feature novice, the thirtyish McG, is merely an excuse for Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu to change their clothes, smile seductively, smile foolishly, smile with exquisite joy, flirt with boys, save the world and generally stomp villainous butt.

For 90 hurtling minutes, the giddy adrenaline suggests some unlikely object like Grease by way of The Matrix. As McG puts it, "If we could shoot champagne directly on celluloid, that's what we'd do, but we made the movie instead." There's more than a little fetish folded into the mix of minxery as well.

Sitting down with the hyper, seriously sincere McG (born Joseph McGinty Mitchell) the afternoon before the film's premiere, I tell him I admire the sassiness, how even Diaz's billion-dollar smile is carted out like a musical's star turns.

"That's the greatest thing I've heard," he enthuses. "That was the intention. I intended for this film to be this far from being a musical. [Go screenwriter] John August worked on the film, and he was like, 'Yeah, it's like a musical, only every once in a while they break out into a fight instead of song-and-dance!' There are equal levels of choreography in the fight sequences."

McG also wanted to use the digitizing technology first applied to Pleasantville to make the look of the film more effervescent, but severe deadlines prevented the approach. "I wanted to do that in the interest of making it look like [an old-fashioned] Technicolor film. I find, y'know, I'm sitting there flipping though channels, why do the films of yesteryear, without reservation, look much better than the films of today. It's because of stocks, arc lights, a lot of things. I want to recreate that. It looks so luxurious and fantastic."

But realism is what people are used to now. "That's certainly not our intention here. We wanted it to be founded in reality, but ultimately wanted to give a sparkle and a glisten to the film, hyper-real, not surreal. We wanted to give it that champagne."

My most hyperbolic note while watching the movie empathized with Barrymore's insistence that the film is partly about teen girl empowerment, thinking that I knew what it would be like to be a happy 12-year-old girl watching this cheery action extravaganza. Yet there's a little bit of pop for everyone: for guys, it's three chicks kicking ass, for girls, yeah, I can be girly and I can kick ass, too.

"Yeah, that's the idea, man. I mean, I want this film to be perceived differently by men than it is by women and certainly by boys than it is girls. Boys can be excited by the attractiveness of the females and the raw action. We wanted the action to be scripted in a language that is more traditionally male. But I wanted to bring the energy of female leads and hopefully tap into a little of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley energy from Alien.

"It's gritty and tough, and men buy into it, but it's ultimately very sexy. And then, of course, as far as girls are concerned, I wanted it to be that sort of U.S. Women's Soccer Team ideal. You can go out there and play with the boys and skin a knee and mix it up, and you don't need always to have your hair and makeup done. That's yesterday's ideal of what it means to be sexy. Today, what it means is to be the best you can be at whatever you're applying yourself to at that given time. Sweat, get dirty, bruise your elbow and still feel comfortable to put on an evening gown and then wake up the next morning and run a corporation and make love to your love interest. You can do it all, you don't have to be 'I'm this, I'm that,' you can be the embodiment of a great many things."

Well, there is that winky streak of fetish throughout, too. "Oh yeah. Yes. Absolutely. We wanted it to be kinky and elegantly subversive, too. The film plays on this one level of this bright, colorful pop kaleidoscope, but look a little more closely, you notice those things floating around that might raise an eyebrow above a discerning eye." Critics and perverts? "Yeah. There's a scene where Drew is bound, I wanted the rope to come from an adult store." Something that a person who is fond of that sort of thing would identify, "Hey, that is indeed the rope of choice!"

McG pauses, revs up again. "Elegant and beautiful women who are powerful. That's where the joy comes from." Our time is up. I bolt toward the coffee.

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