A ‘woke’ hunk of ’70s cheese, made tasty by Stewart and co.
ABC-TV wasn’t alone. But in the network’s fleshpeddling harem era of the 1970s, an adolescent boy could tune into “Charlie’s Angels” (or “Fantasy Island” or “Battle of the Network Stars”) and begin developing some pretty dubious notions of female empowerment as it relates to straight male gratification. Meaning: If the latter was covered, whatever with the former.
And there it is: American show business in a nutshell. On Broadway, for the better part of a century, the “glorification of the American girl” meant packaging entertainment designed for the tired businessman and his wife, as they used to say. So it was, too, on TV. And is, still, though things have broadened to include more and different ways to ogle, now with slightly less guilt and a more equitable and fluid range of sexual representation.
Released in 2000 and 2003, the “Charlie’s Angels” movies from the director insufferably known as McG proved that there was money to be made with the franchise, by amping the camp as well as the violence.
Now there’s a new “Charlie’s Angels” picture, this one from producer, writer, director and co-star Elizabeth Banks. It’s fairly entertaining globe-trotting nonsense for what it is, which isn’t much, but there you have it.
Kristen Stewart, in particular, makes a private party out of every scrap of comic relief she’s given, scoring with an impressive percentage of her muttered asides and drive-by zingers. She doesn’t hit any of her material for emphasis; rather, she gives some medium-grade retorts a winging-it air of spontaneity.
Her character, Sabina, is a Park Avenue rich kid who went rogue and became a superspy/private eye. The film’s central trio comprises Stewart, the British performer Naomi Scott (Jasmine in the recent live-action “Aladdin”) and, also British, Ella Balinska. The plot, not easy to recall the next morning, concerns a corporate whistleblower (Scott) whose sniveling boss (Nat Faxon) has overseen development of a super-powerful and mega-dangerous electrical source that can and damn well be weaponized in the wrong hands.
The Townsend Agency, which has become a global “Kingsman”-scale operation, must save the day, angel by angel. For the record, though, that won’t fly anymore: Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey sing the soundtrack’s lead single, titled “Don’t Call Me Angel.”
Is this a franchise divided against itself? Only if you’re hopelessly devoted to the Farrah-haired days of yore. Who if it doesn’t do PG-13-rated lap dances for the same tired businessmen? Banks certainly doesn’t. She’s trying to wake things up and snag the “Pitch Perfect 2” crowd (she directed that film too) and their dates. The film makes no bones about being a female-led, femaleskewing audience picture.
Banks plays one of a million Bosleys overseeing a far-flung roster of “angels.” Other Bosleys are portrayed by Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou. The movie scoots from Rio to Hamburg to Berlin to Istanbul to London, always a few dozen extras shy of a plausible street scene.
The action’s OK; Banks and the movie fare best in smaller encounters (McG’s movies weren’t much good at anything, indoors or outdoors, except Cameron Diaz, dancing), such as a bookstore melee introducing the story’s tiresome deadly assassin (Jonathan Tucker).
I wish there were as many big payoffs and clever jokes as there are Bosleys in this movie. But Stewart and company have their fun, and we have a reasonable percentage of theirs.
Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott star in “Charlie’s Angels.” PG-13 (for action/violence, language and some suggestive material) 1:59