The thing about vaping is there's no way it ever looks sexy, whether it's the small puff emitted from Juuls or the bloated clouds from more intense "rigs." It looks neutral at best, and stupid at worst. The thing about smoking, however, is that despite all of its awful health risks, it really, unfortunately, can look quite hot. You'll realize this if you've seen a single episode of Mad Men, or if you've watched the 2000's Charlie's Angels, in which Sam Rockwell made the combination of smoking, shimmying, and soda drinking surprisingly attractive.
So, the "you" here is really, well, me. But if you were also in your formative stage of pre-pubescence at the time that Charlie's Angels came out in 2000 and you convinced your parents to let you watch the movie despite its well-earned PG-13 rating, I'm sure you can recall the scene I'm talking about. It's one that stands out for its sensuality in a movie that's already sweaty with sex appeal.
After Cameron Diaz shook her ass in underwear in front of the mirror, and then again in low-rise jeans on the Soul Train stage, and after Lucy Liu in a skintight leather skirt suit pretty much played a domme in an electronics company's conference room, and after Crispin Glover did some weirdly kinky hair pulling, and after Drew Barrymore tumbled down a hill topless, Charlie's Angels gave us an unexpected gift from an actor who was then still relatively unknown.
Before he ever played a sex-addicted con man in the adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke or went mad while stuck in space in the critically-acclaimed Moon, Sam Rockwell, as Charlie's Angels' villain and global communications entrepreneur Eric Knox, slid a CD into a CD player and pressed play. Then, he started dancing.
The scene goes as follows. Smoke plumes next to Rockwell's eyes, hidden behind sunglasses reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson's but with red lenses, while the beat of Pharoahe Monche's "Simon Says" plays on the stereo. The camera pans to his feet. As the beat goes bah bah bah, Rockwell slides slick black leather shoes and begins to shimmy in front of a boombox.
The camera moves up: we see Rockwell—hair long, voluminous, and brushed backward like a true late 90s heartthrob, and dressed in an all-black suit—smoking a cigarette in one hand and holding a can of soda in the other, which he slurps with a long red plastic straw. He continues to dance, and the sequence ends with one final twist as he points his cigarette-holding hand out like a gun and then takes one long drag. He seems thoroughly pleased with himself.
At this point in the movie, Rockwell as Knox has been exposed as the bad guy, despite the Angels' previous assumption that he was the victim (you can't call "spoilers" on a movie that came out 19 years ago). Knox has Bosley (Bill Murray) locked away in a seaside fortress as he makes headway on his master plan to kill Charlie, the unknown man for whom the Angels work. He doesn't know yet that the Angels are onto him, and this scene is his victory dance.
It is also absolutely a relic of an earlier era, one in which it was okay to glamorize not just smoking but also plastic straw drinking. Although we really shouldn't try to emulate anything in the scene, we can at least still appreciate it and acknowledge that some of it is, using Disney+'s new turn of phrase, "outdated cultural depictions."
Even though it's only about 30 seconds long, the scene is iconic. One upload of it on YouTube has over 1.8 million views, with comments about how much people loved it and appreciation of Rockwell's level of "swag."
If I'm honest, it's also pretty hot, with Rockwell's scheming and eccentric villain only adding fuel to the cliche "bad boys are sexy" fire. I'm clearly not alone in thinking this because the top comment on a 2010 upload of the clip reads, "Am I the only one who thinks that he's never been sexier than in this scene?" After someone on Reddit called the scene "the moment I fell in love with Sam Rockwell," others commented to say that they'd thought they were the only ones.
Before Charlie's Angels, Rockwell showed that he was a talented actor in 1999's The Green Mile, in which he played the mercurial "Wild Bill" Wharton. But in this tiny clip in a campy, silly movie, Rockwell proved that he could definitely be a heartthrob, too, and even stake his claim to some of the film's seeping sexuality. It also showed that the man can really dance, and dancing has since featured in plenty of Rockwell's movies.
Why this is relevant now, of course, is because there's a new Charlie's Angels in theaters. Directed by Elizabeth Banks and starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska, Charlie's Angels (2019) has opened to mixed reviews, though critics seem to think that it retains the franchise's campy fun. I can't wait to see Kristen Stewart fight in Hawaiian shirts and pink denim either, but if the movie doesn't have a smoking Sam Rockwell, or a leather-clad Lucy Liu, or Tim Curry as a funny but out-of-touch rich man, then really, what's the point?
Charlie's Angels (2019) is in theaters now, but for the real Rockwell heads, Charlie's Angels (2000) is also on Netflix.