FILM REVIEW – CHARLIE’S ANGELS. With Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart. Written and directed by Elizabeth Banks. Rated PG-13 for action/violence, language and some suggestive material. 118 minutes.
While one would like to think that the notion that Hollywood has run out of ideas is just a joke, this new CHARLIE’S ANGELS could be exhibit A for the argument that that’s no joke at all. It’s the classic case of a remake/reboot/sequel that was made not because anyone had a story they were inspired to tell, but simply because the rights to do so were at hand.
For those unfamiliar with it, “Charlie’s Angels” was an exceedingly silly, if popular, TV show that ran 1976-81. The idea was that the unseen Charlie ran a detective agency and through his onscreen assistant Bosley would send three beautiful women on various cases. There was action and chases, but the key thing was that there was “jiggle.” Although some talented actresses appeared on the show, the focus was on their bodies, not their minds.
In 2000, the first movie appeared. The women were still beautiful, but the emphasis was now on action. The move was a hit and led to a single sequel. Times they were a-changin’, though, and when the show itself was revived on TV in 2011, it was cancelled after only eight episodes. Clearly this was a concept that had exceeded its sell-by date.
Actress/writer/director Elizabeth Banks tries to deepen the “mythology” of the series with many women employed, being run by a number of “Bosleys.” Indeed, she plays one, as does Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou. The plot – if the script can be credited to having one – involves a new technology which holds great promise but also great danger, especially if it falls in the wrong hands. Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is trying to bring news of the danger to the company’s head but is thwarted by an executive with a different agenda. Instead, she finds herself working with Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) in trying to steal the technology before it can be weaponized.
The movie jumps around various locations with outbursts of action and occasionally pausing for some labored attempts at humor. There’s even an attempt at mystery when it’s discovered that there may be a traitor in Charlie’s organization. It’s all to no avail. The problem begins with a script that is not only unpolished, but features characters who have to be substantially rewritten simply to rise to the level of cardboard.
For all the emphasis on female empowerment, there may no longer be much “jiggle” but there’s also not much depth. None of the women are given more than one note to play, whether it’s Scott being naïve, Balinska being glamorous, or Stewart being snarky. They all can fight and use weapons (with Scott’s inexperience supposedly being a source of humor), but there’s nothing to make the viewer care about what’s going on at all. The cast is pleasant enough – except for the bad guys who are cartoonishly evil – but there’s no attempt to let us see them as any more than game pieces.
It would be all too easy to dismiss “Charlie’s Angels” as having the depth of a video game, but that would be unfair… to video games. Perhaps it’s time to lay this ‘70s relic to rest and look elsewhere for a vehicle for female action heroes?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.