Charlie’s Angels (PG13)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinkska, Naomi Scott, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Charlie’s Angels is a generic action-comedy with a brand name. Remove the label and you’ve got yourself a so-so, curiously lacklustre movie.
If you know your Charlie’s Angels, it’s based on a TV show that ran in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which later spawned two features in the noughties starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, and a TV reboot in 2011 that’s sooo memorable that you have to run it by IMDB to be sure that it wasn’t made up.
It centres on The Townsend Agency, which sounds like a model-scouting company but is actually a private detective firm. It’s headed and bankrolled by a mysterious millionaire, so secretive that he communicates to the staff via a speaker box. His operatives are known as Angels (so that makes Charlie God, right?) and his second-in-command is named Bosley.
So if you’re new to the franchise, that’s all you need to know coming in for the 2019 movie; for nostalgia-seekers, there’s a walk-down-memory-lane moment early that acknowledges the previous Charlie’s Angels incarnations (except for that 2011 reboot…ouch! ). It’s an amusing in-joke, but non-fans would think the awful Photoshopping is the joke. Ho ho.
There are updates to the Charlie’s Angels lore. The Townsend Agency is now a well-funded, well-equipped security and investigative enterprise with as many branches as there are Starbucks around the world. Is it an independent intelligence group a la Kingsman? Do the employees ever run a check on Charlie's tax returns? Should Charlie go rogue one day, the Townsend Agency is the kind of organisation you’d send Austin Powers, not James Bond, to take down.
Elizabeth Banks, who also wrote and directed the movie, plays one of the many Bosleys; she takes care of the California office, I think. Kristen Stewart (in her first studio picture since the scandalous Snow White and The Huntsman) and British newcomer Ella Balinkska are her Angels, Sabina and Jane, respectively.
Their mission: to help scientist and corporate whistleblower Elena (Naomi Scott aka Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine) recover a mobile energy source that can be weaponised. Or something like that. And off they go to save the world! Don’t bother packing: there’s a wardrobe — as well as an armoury and a healer/nutritionist (Luis Gerardo Mendez) — at their Airbnb-worthy safe house.
Now, how does Charlie’s Angel fare as an action comedy? Let’s just say Stuber it isn’t. Clearly, Banks wants to avoid the goofy, cartoony, almost supernatural heroics in the McG-helmed movies and stick the mayhem in the grounded reality of the Jason Bourne-verse. But she struggles to find a middle path and never lands on a coherent tone.
There’s a lot of action but not enough actual excitement. There’s a scene where Stewart is on the lookout from the rooftop of a skyscraper. When her mates run into some danger, guess what she does? She runs down the staircase when she should be doing some James Bond s*** like rappelling down the building. Cinematically, that’s way cooler… and frankly, faster. If that sequence of running down the stairs is meant to be funny, it’s lost on me.
As the eponymous crime-fighting unit, Stewart, Balinkska and Scott's characters aren't that interesting individually. Together, they lack the infectious sparks Barrymore, Diaz and Liu shared in their movies. To be fair, narratively speaking, the new Angels are teaming up for the first time (Scott isn’t an official Angel, just a civilian who gets dragged along for the ride), so they’re still finding their grooves. I’ll let their lack of chemistry slide.
Elsewhere, Banks’ Bosley enjoys far more of a central character role than Bill Murray and Bernie Mac ever did in their takes. Here, she’s almost like the fourth Angel. Pity she can’t add more life to the other characters, notably Jonathan Tucker’s sociopathic henchman Hodak who belongs in ‘90s Joel Silver production.
Banks, who’s made two Pitch Perfects before this, should have played to her strengths by pumping up the fun factor. When the laughs dry up, mighty quick may I add, Charlie’s Angels becomes a snooze-fest. The only time the movie allows itself to fun is in the end-credits (cameo alert!). By then, it’s too little, too late.
I hope Charlie’s Angels does well enough to greenlight a sequel or spin-off, even. Remember The Townsend Agency has gone international? I’d love to see who’s running the Southeast Asia office. Can you see it? (**)
For more on Charlie’s Angels, listen to our chat with Daniel Martin on CNA938’s Trending.
Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment/Chiabella James