CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019) – Review
This week’s big new studio flick actually feels like a holdover from the Summer, with its big splashy action sequences and loopy, loose attitude (not at all one of the somber end of the year bits of serious cinema). Oh, as for the “new” part, this one’s roots are pretty old, well over 45 years. It could be called a reboot of a reboot, all going back to an iconic TV show that ran from 1976 to 1981. This hour-long camp caper fantasy was in rerun limbo until a star-packed feature film upgrade hit the screens in 2000, with a sequel three years later. But unlike other TV shows turned film franchises like STAR TREK and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, which just keep “chuggin’ along”, it pretty much stalled out, aside from an 8 episode TV series (hmmm from the tube to the movies twice then back) in 2011. Now, just a few weeks since the return of THE ADDAMS FAMILY comes another TV rehash with a twist. With the earlier flick, it’s “new spin” was CG animation., while this weekend’s ‘spin’ is mainly behind the camera. So, was there really a fervent clamoring for this return? Maybe audiences are ready for the 2019 edition of CHARLIE’S ANGELS.
As with the MI and Bond films, this romp begins with the end of an adventure. In Rio, an international criminal and his crew are taken down. Rather than a secret government unit, the heroes are the “angels” of the Charlie Townsend Agency including the street-smart, snarky Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and deadly former MI-6 agent Jane (Ella Balinska), all supervised by their handler “Bosley” (Patrick Stewart). A year or so later, at the office of the Brock Company in Hamburg, Germany, systems engineer Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) informs her supervisor Mr. Fleming (Nat Faxon) of the possible dangers of their revolutionary portable power device the Calisto (it looks like a Buckminister Fuller designed Tesseract) after the device puts an associate in the hospital. He dismisses her concerns, prompting Elena to find a way to get the word to Brock (Sam Claflin) himself. Meanwhile, at the LA home of CTA, Bosley is given a retirement party by Bosley (Elizabeth Banks). Confused? Well, it seems that “Bosley” is like a rank in the military, similar to captain. As the celebration ends, Sabina and Jane reteam for their new assignment. Elena has contacted the CTA about her concerns, but her secret meeting with another Bosley and the two angels ends in tragedy because of an attack by a deadly assassin. The scientist joins the angels when all the Calisto devices go missing (along with Fleming). Turns out that they can be weaponized. Thus begins a globe-trotting race against time to recover the devices before they end up in the wrong hands.
Of the three actresses playing the title characters the best known is probably Stewart as the senior angel known as Sabina (a sly nod to original TV angel Sabrina played by Kate Jackson). Freed from the forbidden romance of the TWILIGHT franchise and her recent fairly somber “indie” work, Stewart seems to be the person having the most fun in this frivolous bit of fluff. Particularly in the opening sequence as she dons a long platinum wig to vamp the baddies reminding me of a certain Oscar-winning “wabbit” whose drag diva deceptions always fooled his enemy (Wayne and Garth were right about that “excellent” observation). Perhaps this could lead to many more daffy comic roles. Scott as Elena is also a source of many comic moments as the “novice”, who’s stunned and often overwhelmed in this “super-spy” skewed world. Although she shrieks in panic as a thug lunges for her, she’s able to use her scientific smarts to gain the upper hand on most of the goons. The relative newcomer (at least for moviegoers) is the towering bronze amazon (hmm, maybe she could be a “sister” of Diana’s gone rogue in another franchise) Balinska as the no-nonsense Jane. She easily goes from action queen to strutting runway royalty with equal confidence. Speaking of confidence, their main Bosley, as played by the talented Ms.Banks, is a tough taskmaster, though this delicious den mother enjoys getting in on the jokes and the chases. The other Bosley is played with “old school” cool by Mr. Stewart (no relation to Kristen), who appears to relish a break from the mutants and starships. As for the main adversaries, Faxon makes a superb smirking pig (“You oughtta’ smile more”) as Elena’s jerk of a boss, while Claflin, as his boss Brock, is very funny as he finds out the brutal realities of dealing with the “dark side”. And some real menace is provided by Jonathon Tucker, whose Hodak is a relentless robot-like destructive force.
You recall when I said that the new “spin” was behind the camera? Well, this studio action “tent pole” is directed by a woman, the aforementioned main Bosley, Banks. And that’s not all because she wrote the screenplay from the story by Evan Spiliotopoulis and Davis Auburn. She guides the chases and stunts with great energy and skill while eliciting a great comedic performance from Ms. Stewart. Unfortunately, the film flounders when the angels aren’t defying danger and outwitting those lunkheaded lads who underestimate them. Particularly during the “pit stops” as the ladies grab the gadgets (could “Q” be moonlighting) and sop up the exposition, the story comes to a screeching halt. Plus several scenes remind us of better films. The Angels don matching outfits and Tony Tenille blonde wigs to confuse a security team, much as in the remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, but without a real “pay off”. Ditto the “phone switching” right out of the OCEANS caper “playbook”.And did we really need the “young girls following their dreams” montage for the opening titles (using Benington ad-like outakes)? The same goes for the ridiculous “techno-pop” dance number that adds nothing to the big third act “showdown”. Those camp (some unintended) moments just prove that the angels seem silly and quaint after the gritty thrills of ATOMIC BLONDE and RED SPARROW. Sure some of the winks at their TV and film pasts are cheesy fun (the quick bits during the end credits capture the spirit), but we’re left with the fact that CHARLIE’S ANGELS never soar. They barely get off the ground (cue the harps).
1 Out of 4