Toward the end of the 2000 reboot of Charlie’s Angels, Drew Barrymore’s secret agent Dylan sits tied to a chair, muzzled by a piece of duct tape upon which Sam Rockwell’s villain has drawn the outline of what he calls “the fullest, sweetest, most luscious lips I have ever kissed.” Rockwell later tears the tape off, and five henchmen enter the room. “You guys like angel cake?” he asks, casually.
Barrymore deals with this implied threat of gang rape by splaying her legs in the air and giving a fun speech. “By the time this is over, every one of you is going to be face-down on the floor, and I’m going to moonwalk out of here,” she says with a cat-ate-the-canary look, giving specifics about whose back she’ll flip over, whose nose she’ll break, etc. She then makes good on her promises in an acrobatic fight scene, periodically pausing to announce the names of her kung-fu positions. “And that’s ‘kicking your ass!’” she shouts once she’s finished, before moonwalking—enthusiastically but poorly—out of the room.
It’s the signature scene of Charlie’s Angels, which was released 15 years ago today and now stands as a landmark of Y2K excess, cheer, and contradictory politics. The very premise—three awesome female cops employed by the unseen Charlie—would seem to necessarily comment on gender roles, but the new-millennium version of the ’70s TV show mostly came across as unweighted by social concerns. Its director McG Nichol, who’d only made music videos before, slathered on hyperactivity, gloss, and drum-and-bass songs while also not seeming too worried about plot coherence or the optics of objectification; he ended up with the seventh-highest-grossing film of 2000. Watched today, its carefree aura is so distinct, so winning, that it’s hard not to use dubious terms about simpler eras—pick either “pre-9/11” or “pre-social media”—to describe it.