LA Weekly
November 3 - 9, 2000

Head Trips        The World’s Greatest Sinner  and Charlie’s Angels

By Manohla Dargis


            In the seemingly  boundless realm of Hollywood vanity

            projects, few are as genuinely eccentric as The World’s

            Greatest Sinner’58-‘62, an independent movie written, directed,

            produced and starring character actor Timothy Carey and

            NEVER released. Instantly recognizable from his

            basset-hound mug and lachrymose Brooklyn whine, Carey,

            who died in 1994, is probably best known as the

            sharpshooter who takes out the racehorse in Stanley

            Kubrick’s The Killing (1956). A year later, Kubrick cast the

            actor as one of the soldiers condemned to the firing squad in

            Paths of Glory — Carey’s Private Ferol is the one sobbing,

            comically, horribly, unrelentingly, alongside the priest during

            one of that film’s bravura tracking shots.


            Carey began acting in the early 1950s, and lucked out with bit

            parts in films such as Crime Wave and East of Eden before

            securing a kind of immortality with the two Kubrick films.

            Although he would go on to appear in One-Eyed Jacks,

            Carey’s subsequent run would have remained essentially

            unremarkable if John Cassavetes hadn’t given him meaty

            supporting roles in Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing

            of a Chinese Bookie. While these two films, along with the

            pair he made with Kubrick, would be enough to sustain

            Carey’s memory, the existence of The World’s Greatest

            Sinner gives that memory a certain something extra. Carey

            embarked on the project in 1958, finishing it three years later.

            “I play an atheist who gets people’s attention by playing

            music,” he once said of his role. “I graduated from a rock &

            roller to a politician . . . he ran for president with God written

            on his cuffs. I played the part of God Hilliard. I had this cult.”

            And then some — The World’s Greatest Sinner has since

            gone on to accrue its own small following, and there are

            enough moments of touching weirdness in the film to explain



            Carey plays an insurance salesman named Clarence Hilliard

            who becomes a rock & roll singer–cum–crusader whose

            wiggles, lamé suit and oil-slick hair are inspired by Elvis

            Presley and whose jive is an incoherent pastiche of

            street-corner huckster evangelism. (“You like a job following

            me?” “To where?” “To eternal life.”) The dialogue, the acting,

            the cinematography, the editing and the sound are as crude as

            the story is nonsensical. The film is narrated by a

            stentorian-voiced boa constrictor, and the music is by Zappa,

            going by his last name only. Still, despite its technical

            shortcomings, and despite too many passages that simply stall

            out — moments during which it feels as if Carey himself had

            lost focus — The World’s Greatest Sinner is more often

            enjoyable than not. Some of the pleasure is of the sort that fills

            magazines such as Psychotronic Video (Issue 6 has a nice

            rambling interview with Carey by Mike Murphy and Johnny

            Legend), but there’s more to the film than its camp fizz,

            namely real passion. It may be terrible, but at least it’s not


            Limited 2-night engagement at the Egyptian.




          Of course, it’s terrible —            but did it have to be this

            bad? Drew Barrymore,  Cameron Diaz and Lucy

            Liu are Charlie’s  newly  configured Angels,

            post-feminist riffs on roles  first memorialized by

           Farrah Fawcett, Kate  Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. There’s

            no direct correspondence  between the old and the new

            — Barrymore is the tough babe,   Diaz  plays what’s been

           described in production accounts as  the “scientific” one,

           which seems to mean that she has a  working brain,

           while Liu’s defining trait seems to be that she  isn’t white.

           As before, the three Angels work for an  anonymous millionaire

           (surprisingly, the new economy hasn’t bumped him up a few billions)

           who contacts his employees through what looks to be the exact same

           speakerphone from  the old television series. Bill Murray, mugging

           lazily, plays the Angels’ go-between, Bosley, a casting decision likely meant

            to goose the film’s hoped-for hip quotient. Murray is too

            obviously bored with the material to give it the benefit of his

            irony, however, and the performance is as incessantly, even

            aggressively, bland as the movie itself.


            In the three years since the project was announced, industry

            columns have burbled about a difficult shoot, from the

            testicular-cancer diagnosis for Barrymore’s boyfriend, comic

            Tom Green, to a much-publicized, much-denied spat between

            Liu and Murray. Fewer column inches were devoted to the

            news that the script underwent 16 to 30 rewrites (Ryan

            Rowe, Ed Solomon and John August are the guys who finally

            staked their claim). Or that the director hired to take the

            Angels higher is a commercial and music-video veteran who

            goes by the McDiminutive “McG,” a.k.a. Joseph McGinty

            Nichol. Until now, McG — his Directors Guild credit — has

            been best known for the “Khaki Country” Gap commercial in

            which fresh-scrubbed men and women line-dance to Dwight

            Yoakam. Perhaps it was their nimble maneuvers that inspired

            co-producer Barrymore, under the aegis of her company,

            Flower Films, to tap McG to shepherd her and her co-stars

            through their countless splits, high kicks and martial-arts

            pirouettes. Certainly it wasn’t because McG can direct a

            movie, as is evident whenever the actors talk to one another

            in a scene in which the dialogue isn’t drowned by squealing

            tires or throbbing bass lines.


            In Charlie’s Angels, Diaz kicks the highest, Liu smiles the

            least, and Barrymore does an ungainly moonwalk. All three

            women flaunt Emma Peel fetish wear and shiny hair that,

            inexplicably, never gets in the way of their daredevil moves.

            The supporting cast — Tim Curry, Kelly Lynch, Crispin

            Glover, Matt LeBlanc — are either underused or badly used,

            and Tom Green’s five screen minutes are too long by four and

            a half. The shambles of a story involves a kidnapped genius

            (one of the film’s conceptual jokes is that he’s played by the

            low-wattage Sam Rockwell), some corporate intrigue and a

            bitter historical wound. In the original series, the whole thing

            would have been wrapped up in an hour, including

            commercials, but here it takes 98 tedious minutes, including a

            flabby James Bond–style pre-credit sequence with a winking

            reference to T.J. Hooker: The Movie. Why, wonders one

            character, do they keep making movies out of old TV shows?

            It’s a question that cuts to the very existence of this dud,

            which is being touted as one of its studio’s bigger seasonal



            In an interview with Columbia Pictures chairwoman Amy

            Pascal, the Los Angeles Times’ Claudia Eller wrote that

            “Pascal is ultra-sensitive about criticisms from her detractors

            that Charlie’s Angels is yet another ‘girl movie,’ after

            bombing with such female-driven films including 28 Days,

            Hanging Up and Girl, Interrupted.” “This is a movie about

            totally positive female energy,” Pascal was quoted as saying,

            “and I think it’s an important thing that girls can be great at

            everything they do. They can be in love, be tough, have jobs

            and not sacrifice anything and be able to fly through the air

            and look great and be brilliant.” It’s been a bad year for

            Pascal, an interesting executive whose choices have gotten

            dumber the worse her movies have done — from Little

            Women to Charlie’s Angels, from Clueless to Hanging Up.

            “I really want this one to work because it hasn’t been the

            world’s greatest year,” Pascal told Eller. “It would be great

            for this to be the beginning of the turnaround. And it’s my

            story.” If it’s startling to read that the chairwoman of a major

            movie studio believes Charlie’s Angels is her story, it’s even

            more so if you’ve seen the movie and witnessed Barrymore

            tongue a steering wheel. Think of it as progress,

            Hollywood-style: When stupid movies happen to smart

            women, it’s no longer just men who are to blame.

            CHARLIE’S ANGELS | Written by RYAN ROWE, ED

            SOLOMON and JOHN AUGUST | Directed by McG |

            Produced by LEONARD GOLDBERG, DREW

            BARRYMORE and NANCY JUVONEN | Released by

            Columbia Pictures Citywide



            TIMOTHY CAREY At the American Cinematheque at the

            Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For

            more information, see Film and Video listings or  visit

            the official movie 


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