[Review] ‘CHARLIE’S ANGELS’ – when a dreaded reboot becomes an unexpected surprise

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Travis Leamon // Film Critic

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019)

Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Kristen StewartNaomi ScottElla Balinska,
Elizabeth Banks
, Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Jonathan Tucker, Nat Faxon and Noah Centineo

The reboot is the Hollywood trend that just won’t end. From Terminators to Ghostbusters to whatever you call Tom Cruise and the Mummy, reboots are simple enough risks for studios to bridge the old with the new. Now taking a television property and bringing it to the big screen is tricky. For every MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, there are a dozen of one and dones.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS was an exception, as the 2000 original was successful enough that a sequel was made a few years later. But the law of diminishing returns nixed the idea of a trilogy. Now I’m old, but not “O.K., Boomer” old to remember watching CHARLIE’S ANGELS during its original run on ABC. I can’t say I’ve seen a single episode. But the show remains a pop culture relic in part because of Farrah Fawcett. Even though she was only a series regular for the first season, Fawcett is synonymous with being an angel.

When Sony Pictures rebooted the series theatrically (with McG directing), I saw them in college and knowingly recall its three leading ladies (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu), Bill Murray as their ringleader Bosley, Crispin Glover as the villainous Thin Man, and the movie’s soundtrack (with chart-topping single “Independent Women” from Destiny’s Child). Ask me about its plot or the 2003 sequel (CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE), though, and I’m a deer in headlights.

Thankfully, prior knowledge of the original series or previous movies is not a prerequisite for the Elizabeth Banks’ reboot. I wasn’t too enticed at the idea, though the casting of Kristen Stewart as one of the heroines did intrigue. Still, my enthusiasm was lacking even with her, Banks playing Bosley and Patrick Stewart as a retiring Bosley.

The good news: CHARLIE’S ANGELS is a low calorie, action-comedy dessert to devour. It is fresh and feminine, but not too much to dissuade guys. Well, guys that like to see females take charge and kick some ass. Elizabeth Banks shows enough respect to the source material and builds a world where the famed Charles Townsend Agency is now a global enterprise with a Bosley in New York, Paris, and other parts of the world.

The bad news: The plot is a tangled mess that becomes more pointless when trying to disentangle. There’s a hand-held thingamajig called Calisto, which, in theory, can be a clean source in generating energy. It’s also a device that can be hacked and weaponized. One of the chief engineers in its design, Elena (Naomi Scott), blows the whistle by contacting the European branch of the talent agency. This, in turn, makes her a liability and an employee that must be liquidated by any means. Angels Sabina (Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) have other ideas. From there, it becomes a game of following the McGuffin, sidestep double-crosses, and save the day. That’s pretty much it.

Elizabeth Banks’ CHARLIE’S ANGELS is not fancy; it’s a stripped-down MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with small spurts of action and sleight of hand – the best of which happens early on as they infiltrate Elena’s workplace in matching outfits and bob hairdos. Its selling point is the characters. More than the action, more than the Calisto device, it is Sabina, Jane, and Elena that make it work. Their backgrounds define their personalities and skills. Whereas Ethan Hunt picks his impossible mission teams based on skillsets, we learn very little about them, unlike the Angels. There’s a moment when Sabina takes chase on a racing horse. When asked about her riding ability, later on, she wistfully refers back to her privileged upbringing with “Mo money, mo horses.”

Kristen Stewart is a total ball of energy, and that carries over to the audience. Because of her enthusiasm, I grew from being apprehensive about another movie reboot to being totally on board. Sabina is the pixie-cut provoker, whip-smart, and without a filter. Just a great showcase of her range and diversity. Banks’ modern feminist vision of CHARLIE’S ANGELS isn’t likely to convert those who can’t get behind this brand of action-comedy. But for those willing to commit two hours will get in return some silly escapist fun with characters that also happen to be strong, diverse, and empowered.

Grade: B-

CHARLIE’S ANGELS is now playing.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.