You know some cheap-irony critical mass has been reached when studios start green-lighting glitzy remakes of TV shows that themselves wallowed in a “we don’t take this seriously and neither should you” self-awareness. Nothing’s more recyclable than junk culture, though, so it’s no puzzle why Hollywood OK’d the grrrl-powered remake of Charlie’s Angels. The question is whether Cameron Diaz cracking euphemistic about her “slot,” Drew Barrymore cavorting naked, or Lucy Liu whipping a roomful of engineers into happy submission is an improvement over the vintage lechery of version 1.0.
The series contained enough leering innuendo to provide Dean Martin with a lifetime’s worth of material, but in truth, the sex was consistent with other ’70s shows: There was practically none. Every week, Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, or Kate Jackson came within a hair’s breadth of being bedded by a kidnapper, pornographer, or garden-variety goon—but the Angels rarely got between the sheets, much less made light of their vaginas. These paragons of guileless pulchritude were also yoked to reclusive, Howard Hughes-like bazillionaire Charlie Townsend, played in both series and film by John Forsythe (known to boomers, not insignificantly, as television’s Bachelor Father). Suffice it to say the carnal potential of this ickily paternalistic relationship was milked for all its worth; fans both anticipated and dreaded the episode in which Charlie would ask, via intercom, “Angels, what does the term ‘simultaneous partners’ mean to you?” In hindsight, it’s clear that Charlie and his myopic lieutenant Bosley (David Doyle, reincarnated in the movie by Bill Murray) were a couple, but back then everyone figured these middle-aged Aaron Spelling surrogates were fantasizing about an Angel five-way pretty much nonstop.
No such tension exists in the film, where the newly deified Charlie and buffoonish Bosley are unencumbered by libidos. Just as well: The series’ randy-but-repressed approach to sex is hard to duplicate in an era when preteens can name favorite porn stars, and its underlying innocence is impossible to reproduce. Still, that willful naïveté is precisely what any pop-culture confection on sale past its pull-date is trying, however flippantly, to recapture. As long as Hollywood continues to pour money into souped-up TV retreads, that seems as good an approach as any; Matrix-style kung fu padding doesn’t hurt, either. So what can we expect next? Laverne & Shirley: The Musical, costarring Catherine Deneuve and Björk?