Movies: Summer Angels

August 5, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, essayist Anne Taylor Fleming samples some summer movies.

ACTOR: You cheated.

ACTOR: Pirate.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Summertime and the viewing is easy– the movie viewing– or at least that’s the theory. The seasonal fare is per se escapist, rompish, silly, family-friendly. Think “the hulk” or “Finding Nemo”… ( screaming ) …or “dumb and dumberer.” It’s an adolescent spree of goofy, gag-filled, often effects-heavy fun.

ACTOR: What stinks?

ACTOR: Could be me, sir. ( The kinks’ “My Sharona” playing )

ACTOR: Bosley!

ACTOR: What’s happening, angels?

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Into this mix has sashayed, or strutted, the three returning Charlie’s Angels, Cameron, Drew and Lucy, back for their mega sequel. They made a fortune last time around with their act: Three well-built babes out to do good in a mean, old world. Well, they’re back “full throttle” this time, slamming around the world in helicopters and on motorcycles, all giggly and righteous with awesome moves and awesome abs, a trio of angelic avengers kick-boxing their sweet, sexy way to box office heaven. So why did they make me so grumpy? After all, this is summertime, tongue-in-cheek fare, and I risk sounding silly taking on their silliness. It’s like taking on Wonder Woman or any of these female-centric video games. Or “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.”

But they strike the old nerve down there, the one that says: Come on, do we girls have to do it like the boys? Is that the bottom line here? That we are equally entitled to strut and kick and kill? Is that what all the hoopla was about, so cherubic-faced megastars can flirt and fight and pose and preen and slash and maim?

ACTOR: I know what you’re thinking: Did he fire six shots or only five?

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Charlie’s Angels, it turns out, are Dirty Harry’s nieces. Their violence made winky-winky palatable by its heavily cleavaged, comic-book quality. At least Clint Eastwood movies hinted at a little moral complexity.

ACTPR: I got to know.

( Gasps ) ( siren wailing )

ACTOR: ( Laughs )

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: The thing that is really troubling is how these heroines are being sold: As the ultimate empowerment figures for young girls. That’s the word, in fact, that all the “Charlie’s Angels” actresses have been using in their promo rounds: “Empowerment.” It’s the feminist, post-feminist word covering a multitude of market excesses. It means you can wear Victoria Secret while blowing away the opposition. These are the new icons: Taut- bodied, take-no-prisoners girls with bikinis and botox.

SPOKESMAN: Three, two, one, go.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: You can see them front and center in all the new reality shows, going head to head and eating worms with the boys.

ACTOR: Come on.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Liberation means never having to say you’re sorry; means living life in the female equivalent of a beer commercial; means making a tacit virtue of vulgarity and violence in the name of empowerment. It apparently also means being giggly and girlish in the mix, a strange kind of apologia for the new strength. The angels have it. So does our “Legally Blonde” star, half steel-trap mind, half pink plaid cutie pie.

ACTOR: Good morning, fellow public servants.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: But all the unexamined biases at the heart of these new “empowering” action chick flicks are disturbing for all that they say– and don’t say– about our values as a society and as women at the beginning of the 21st century.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.