CHARLIE’S ANGELS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Nat Faxon, Sam Claflin, Djimon Hounsou, Jonathan Tucker, Chris Pang, Luis Gerardo Mendez, Noah Centineo.

Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska in Charlie's Angels (2019)

The original Charlie’s Angels television series was a hit in the 70s and ran for five seasons from 1976-81. It depicted the exploits of three highly talented and well-trained female detectives who worked for the fictitious Charles Townsend Agency. This reboot is the third feature film version based on the original series, following the 2000 and 2003 versions that starred Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore.  While those two films stuck reasonably close to the formula of the series, this third film offers something of a more radical, contemporary take as it ramps up the action and the aggression. It also dishonours the legacy of the series.

Here the Townsend agency has spread its tentacles worldwide and its offices around the globe are staffed by handpicked, highly trained and technically efficient female operatives. There are also multiple Bosleys to hand out the assignments – here Bosley is apparently a rank within the organisation. The original John Bosley (Patrick Stewart) is now retiring after over forty years of service to the agency and is handing over the reins of the California operation to Rebecca Bosley (Elizabeth Banks, from Pitch Perfect, etc).

The plot itself kicks in when scientist and engineer Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott, from the recent live action remake of Aladdin) expresses concern that her revolutionary new sustainable alternative energy source, known as Calisto, has a potential flaw and could be used as a weapon. Elena works for millionaire businessman Alexander Bock (Sam Claflin, recently seen in The NIghtingale), who seems disinterested in what is happening within his own company. Her sexist boss Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) also ignore her concerns. Then the prototype is stolen from the highly protected laboratory and is going to be sold on the black market. Enter the angels, in the form of brooding tomboy Sabina (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart) and former MI6 agent Jane (newcomer Ella Balinska) who take Elena under their wing and shape her into a potential new recruit for the agency.

This stale reboot has been written and directed by Elizabeth Banks. She has obviously seen too many Mission: Impossible movies and thought: “I can do that too!” Wrong! This is a messy, shallow and incoherent generic actioner with a strong feminist empowerment angle. The story itself is unnecessarily convoluted and nonsensical, and the tired, seen it all before action sequences are clumsily directed; it is clear that stylishly choreographed and clear action is not her strength. And the film is tonally uneven, with the violence at times jarring with its comedic intentions.

Charlie’s Angels is purely eye candy – not only because of its attractive female cast, but also because the action races through many exotic locations for no real good reason.  It’s also like a fashion parade, as the heroines change costumes more times in two hours than Angela Lansbury does in a whole season of Murder, She Wrote.

The performances are uneven, but there is some good chemistry between the three leads though as they trade banter, sexual innuendo, and deliver some lame one-liners. Balinska acquits herself well in the more physical role. Stewart brings gravitas to his role, but essentially there is little here to challenge him dramatically and he is merely going through the motions. Jonathan Tucker (from the tv series Kingdom, etc) plays Hodak, a remorseless and relentless, almost indestructible assassin on the trail of Elena, but he comes across too much like Robert Patrick’s villainous robot from T2.

This tired and tedious reboot of Charlie’s Angels is largely unnecessary, although it will probably resonate with its target demographic. And it seems to have been positioning itself for a sequel, whether or not we want or even need another film in the franchise.

★★

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