Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Charlie's Angels

Title: Charlie's Angels

Describe This Movie In One Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Quote:

THE OLD MAN: Women! They let 'em vote, smoke, and drive ... even put 'em in pants! And what happens? A Democrat for president!

Brief Plot Synopsis: Feisty frauleins fight fiendish foes, find fellowship.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3.5 Moe Howards out of 5.

Tagline: "Sworn to secrecy, bound by sisterhood."

Better Tagline: "All the single ladies? All the single ladies."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Scientist Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is worried her prototype Calisto project is being eyed for nefarious purposes, but while relaying her concerns, she's ambushed and has to be rescued by two operatives from the Townsend Agency. Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinask) introduce her to their boss, Bosley (Elizabeth Banks), who makes her an offer she can't refuse.

"Critical" Analysis:
 Like turning an oil tanker, the Charlie's Angels franchise has taken an inordinately long time to come around from its late '70s "jiggle" underpinnings. The original TV series wasted few opportunities to put stars Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett, and Cheryl Ladd in swimsuits or hot pants. McG's early '00s efforts didn't skimp on the skimpiness, yet played it more tongue-in-cheek, essentially wanting to have his cheesecake and eat it too.

Writer/director/producer Elizabeth Banks has (more or less) eschewed that approach with her take on the Townsend Agency. In the latest Charlie's Angels, the titilation is mostly designed to distract, with depressingly consistent success. Fashion is more important to this entry, and proves to be more varied than, say, the bespoke threads of Kingsman (to use one of a bazillion fictional equivalents).

Mostly, the numerous costume changes serve as a side dish to Banks's main thematic course: that we overlook capable women at our peril. Sometimes, this is overstated (the opening scene, where a bewigged Sabina trusses up Chris Pang's supercilious industrialist). Other examples are more everyday (Elena's whistleblower is dismissed out of hand by both her immediate supervisor and the company's Chief Executive).

Banks can also lapse into heavy-handedness in her eagerness to deliver a message. One pivotal scene has a downed Bosely menaced by a circle of grim-faced (and largely anonymous) men, while the opening titles are just a bunch of shots of girls and women doing ... stuff. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with depicting this, of course, but it's almost like Banks doesn't trust us enough to interpret context clues.

[reads news]. Never mind.

The Maguffin Calisto, a device that can EMP the human brain in the wrong hands or whatever, is merely a convenient excuse for the Angels to drive cool cars, equip themselves from the Townsend Agency's ample closets, and kick ass. Balinska is the best at that last part, Jane giving a more level-headed and experienced alternative to Sabina's fast-and-loose approach.

And no one does a bad job here. Even as a whistleblower pursued by corporate assassins, Scott is more relaxed than in the Aladdin reboot, Stewart is clearly having a blast (both Kristen and Patrick), there are some righteous cameos (The Townsend Agency is ... far-reaching), and it's a relief to see Sam Claflin (as Elena's CEO) in a goofy role after his atrocity-laden turn in The Nightingale.

Charlie's Angels is frothy and light-hearted and is honestly more fun than it has any right to be. If Hollywood has to keep rebooting decades-old properties in order to keep turning audiences upside down and shaking them for the precious change in their pockets, they could do a lot worse than this.

Ask A 10-Year Old:
RFTED: Who was your favorite Angel?
10YO: Sabina.
10YO: She's the coolest: she rides a motorcycle and a horse.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar