Nearly 17 years after the last “Charlie’s Angels” movie, which featured Cameron Diaz jumping around in her skivvies, comes a feminist, uber-conscious update of the spy story. That’s a tall order considering the title is a dude being possessive of women, but this reboot tries like the Dickinson.
The movie’s opening credit sequence, for example, is a montage of young girls engaging in wholesome pursuits such as science experiments, swim practice and horseback riding. A sort of “The children are the future … Angels.” Where are the explosions and jet skis? The ass-kickery? It’s a worrisome start.
But what writer/director/star Elizabeth Banks gets right moving forward is turning most of the girl power moments into jokes rather than manifestos or feel-good vibes. When the Angels’ hobo-chic health guru wants to readjust one of their backs, he breathily asks for consent. It’s a funny bit.
The other change is tamping down the cheese. The 1970s TV series was, more or less, a L’Oréal commercial with guns, and the 2000 and 2003 films starring Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu leaned more Austin Powers than Jason Bourne.
The new crew — Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska — are edgier (Stewart barely has any hair to toss) than Angels past and go to more honest, emotional places. Sobriety, however, doesn’t always add up to a good time.
As in real life, a mobile device is the world’s greatest threat. It’s a promising technology that harnesses magnetic fields to cleanly power entire buildings, but, whoopsie, can also destroy the planet. Knowing the risks, a scientist on the project named Jane (Balinska) tells the agency and unwittingly becomes an Angel in the process.
Completing the trio are Sabina (Stewart), a rebel heiress, and Elena (Scott), a former MI6 agent. The actresses click as a unit, but lack much of the exuberance and distinctiveness of their predecessors. Their boss is still Bosley (Banks), but now there is a worldwide network of Bosleys, including Patrick Stewart, and enough Angels to fill several dugouts.
A signature of these films are its clever disguises and masks. There is just one scene that lives up to that legacy, when all three women don hilarious skunk-like bowl-cut wigs and polka-dot shirts to perplex security guards. Too much of the rest is standard-issue action fare, and when it comes to the twists, just assume any man is bad.
Scott and Balinska are capable, but bland. The actress who gets most in the oversize spirit of the occasion is Stewart, showing more personality and comic chops than she has before. “Twilight” and her film about Lizzie Borden are not known for their gut-busting humor. But her carefree, easily distracted Sabina owns almost every laugh in “Charlie’s Angels.”
I might regret saying this later, but Stewart should do more comedies.
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