This week's Return of the Florida Recount took me back to the chad chad chad chad world of November 2000. Those were unnerving times for a humble presidential-election correspondent who carelessly signed on for Campaign 2000 unaware that under various mooted dimpled-chad scenarios it would last until 2003. I'm not sure I'd consciously heard the word "chad" prior to the early hours of the morning after, and I'd certainly never heard of dimpled chads, hanging chads, pregnant chads and flat chads, all of whose subtle distinctions I found myself living with for several weeks. So after a fortnight or so I fancied myself in the mood for a light, frothy, escapist movie to take my mind off manual recounts and county canvassing boards. Florida may be a chad-infested swamp, but for a couple of hours in the dark of the picture palace a man can put aside the chads and enjoy a chad-free divertissement.
That was the plan. But the new movie at the multiplex that week was Charlie's Angels, and it opens with a déshabillé Drew Barrymore crumpling the sheets on a houseboat skippered by a goofball called ...Chad.
How the hell does that happen? Until that weekend, in the entirety of the history of motion pictures, there was nary a Chad in it. Okay, okay, before you fire off sneering missives, there was Chad E Donella, who gave a somewhat disappointing performance — very much a flat Chad, I'm afraid — as Tod in Final Destination (2000). And there was Chad Lindberg, who played a deaf drag queen — a well-hanging Chad miming the songs of Patsy Cline in The Velocity of Gary (1999). And let's not forget Chad Christ (really), who played Zach the cute drama student — a dimpled Chad at Reagan High in Jawbreakers (1999). Plus, on the distaff side, Chad Morgan, who played the promiscuous best friend Brenda — a swinging Chad who nearly ended up a pregnant Chad — in Whatever (1998).
But, even so, what are the statistical odds of a cinematic Chad showing up just in time for the Florida recount? From the Old English Ceadda, derived from the Welsh word "cad" meaning "battle", Chad was an unpopular Christian name until it debuted, per the Social Security Administration, at Number 997 on the Top Thousand American boys' names in 1945. It rose through the ranks to reach Number 25 in 1972 and 1973. Which means that the Florida Recount coincided with the precise moment that Generation Chad was the perfect age to start hangin' and swingin' with Drew Barrymore.The particular Chad of Charlie's Angels was played by Miss Barrymore's then beau, Tom Green, an Ottawa comedian best known for having the surgical removal of his defective testicle televised. Yes, yes, I know what you Americans are sneering: Aren't all Canadian testicles defective by definition? Yeah, well, that's why there's a two-year wait list at the Royal Victoria. Okay, with the Canuckophobia out of the way, back to business: Adding an even more eerie synchronicity, the big-screen Chad refers to himself throughout the movie as "The Chad", so that the dialogue is indistinguishable from the conversations then going on in the counting rooms of the dodgier Florida counties. When Dylan (Drew Barrymore) dresses and scrams without waiting for breakfast, Chad yells after her as she leaves: "Is it The Chad?"
"It might be The Chad," admits Dylan, leaving him hanging and flat and pregnant (with anxiety). Later on, though, The Chad returns, piloting his houseboat down the coast to help rescue Bosley, Charlie's right-hand man. Once again, Dylan leaves in a hurry, diving into the briny. Once again, The Chad wants to know: "Is it The Chad?"
But not this time. "The Chad was great!" Dylan shouts back, leaving his little Chaddy face all dimpled.
On the non-Chad front, not much in the movie was retained from the old television show (1976-81) except the disembodied voice of Charlie, played then as now by John Forsythe, later to triumph as blue-haired Blake Carrington in "Dynasty", and the producer, then as now Leonard Goldberg. The original "Charlie's Angels" was, he tells us, "the beginning of the empowerment of women within popular culture". Really? Back in the Seventies, it was said to have ushered in the era of "jiggle TV", an industry shorthand originating in the way Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith spent most of their time chasing after people while their finer points bounced around the screen like a primitive computer game. Jiggle would be in short supply once the hardbody look came in, and even shorter after the implants took over. The gals on "Baywatch" also ran around a lot but to the opposite effect: heads, arms, legs all move, but their embonpoints stayed fixed on course with the determined precision of a Scud missile.
Happily, the film version offers both jiggle and empowerment, or, at any rate, empowering jiggliness. The Bond-esque opening begins high in the sky, with an in-flight movie based on William Shatner's old cop caper, "T J Hooker". "Not another movie from an old TV show," sighs one of the passengers, letting us know early on that this project knows it's a piece of cheesy opportunism and knows we know it, too. A quarter-century earlier, the original Angels spent a lot of time flipping their hair. They still do, only now they do it in slow motion and as a kind of parodic talisman. Meanwhile, the soundtrack plays "Undercover Angel", "Angel Of The Morning", "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" and other angelic hits of the Seventies.
Directed by someone called McG with the cool indifference one would expect from a pop-video maestro, the plot is so lame it would barely sustain one of those old TV episodes, never mind a full-length feature. But in the second half, as it becomes a race to save the life of the unseen Charlie, it comes to be almost affecting, bringing the relationship of the Angels to their absentee father-figure into sharper focus than the TV series ever did.
In the end, though, all it has going for it is its trio of Angels — then redheaded Miss Barrymore (Dylan), brunette Lucy Liu (Alex) and blonde Cameron Diaz (Natalie) — and the fact that all three are obviously having a good time, in contrast to the usual tough old grumps of empowerment flicks like Demi Moore. So these chicks don't see why you shouldn't be able to defuse bombs, speak Japanese and still be girly, and are thus happy to run around in gold lamé bikinis and wet suits unzipped to the navel, on the one hand, and, on the other, to demonstrate their mastery of disguise by showing up as a trio of yodeling telegrams in skintight dirndls and lederhosen. Every Angel has her moment: Lucy Liu infiltrates the enemy's corporate headquarters as an efficiency consultant who comes on like a whip-wielding dominatrix; Drew Barrymore, tied to a chair, nevertheless takes out a roomful of her captors and then moonwalks away; and Cameron Diaz and her date go to a taping of "Soul Train" and she gets to do a geeky honky go-go dance to Sir Mix-A- Lot's "Baby Got Back" that drives the crowd into a frenzy. At such moments, Charlie's Angels seems like a throwback not to the Seventies but to the Forties, to an age of agreeable B-movies that got along on likeable stars enjoying themselves. Why begrudge them?
As for Chads in the movies, I see that Hollywood now has a uninominal actor called Chad, who played a "white man" in Gold Digger Killer (2007), and a more definite thesp called The Chad, who played a security guard in Street Fighter II: V or possibly Street Fighter V: II. And last year there was even a film called The Chad, which came and went without so much as dimpling the box office. As usual, I should have done my throwaway gag about the male vocal quartet The Four Chads for real.
~Mark will be back later this evening with Part Two of our latest Tale for Our Time - The Scarlet Pimpernel - and after that the rest of the weekend will mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended the Great War, including a brand new edition of our video poetry series.
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