A ‘woke’ hunk of ’70s cheese, made tasty by Ste­wart and co.

Orlando Sentinel - - CALENDAR - By Michael Phillips

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

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