CHARLIE’S ANGELS (Elizabeth Banks). Opens Friday (November 15). 118 minutes. See listing. Rating: N
A good Charlie’s Angels movie is hard to fathom. We’re talking about a franchise where women stunt like Bond and pose like runway models while working for a super elite agency that calls them “angels.”
The previous iteration from 2000 – with its sprightly and game stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu – lived up to the stupid concept while managing a light, energetic and fun vibe.
No such luck for the post-#MeToo Charlie’s Angels, which tries to enjoy the brand’s silliness while justifying its existence today. The movie does that by regularly needling the patriarchy and posturing feminism while demanding fewer sexy poses from its runway-ready cast (Kristen Stewart, Aladdin’s Naomi Scott and nimble newcomer Ella Balinska).
I can only presume Stewart signed up for this sloppy reboot to subsidize her more interesting work. The actor’s post-Twilight career has been all about working with new indie filmmakers and seasoned artists like Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper) and Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women). Like her Twilight co-star (and real-life ex) Robert Pattinson, Stewart has been using her powers for good.
And her powers are evident as Charlie’s Angels opens with a close-up on the actor’s face. Stewart’s Sabina is undercover as a randy date. She seduces a criminal with a monologue about the choices women make even when it seems like they have no choice at all. Sabina recites this while teasingly wrapping a curtain around her mark’s neck to strangle him with after. It’s a great cold open, both sexy and empowering. Alas, the movie never lives up to it.
The screenplay passed through a couple of male writers’ hands before it got to Elizabeth Banks, who besides writing, also directs and appears as one of the film’s many Bosleys. In this iteration, Bosley is no longer a name but a rank in what is now an international agency employing Angels by the hundreds.
Banks’s Bosley leads Stewart’s Sabina and Balinska’s Jane on a mission to protect Naomi Scott’s whistleblower-turned-new-recruit and retrieve a secret weapon before it falls into the hands of the highest bidder. A shameless lack of originality is the least of this movie’s problems.
There’s a lot of flash and action in scenes that look propulsive but never feel that way, perhaps because they barely nudge the plot forward and the stars often seem lost. Scenes are chopped and reassembled clumsily, showing the scars of a movie being salvaged from incompetence.
Stewart loses her grip on her character immediately after her opening monologue. Sabina becomes goofy and shallow, which is an awkward fit for the actor. Scott struggles not to be a shrill cliché. She’s now appeared in three franchise titles – Power Rangers and Aladdin before this – and has barely made an impression because these big, dumb and loud movies dwarf whatever talent she has. Balinksa is the athletic one in the cast. Her bio includes fight training, which goes a long way in action scenes. She’s the only cast member that can pull off some nifty moves.
The movie might have overcome all this had there been some sense that the female camaraderie paraded in the finale is earned. Instead we only feel contractual obligations. Whatever chemistry there might have been was left on the cutting-room floor.