The Charlie’s Angels films starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore that hit the big screens in the early 2000s weren’t good. But at least they were unabashedly cheesy and invited us to be a part of their nonsensical (and quite frankly joyous) ride. Look, I haven’t watched those flicks since I was a 9-year-old kid, who at the time genuinely believed I had died and ascended to heaven when Cameron Diaz started twerking around in her Spider-Man undies. So, admittedly, I could be giving those movies more credit than they deserve. The 2019 version of Charlie’s Angels — a sequel/reboot in the vein of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — fortunately isn’t a movie centred around females but aimed squarely at pre-pubescent boys. Unfortunately, it is a mess. Not only is it a mess, it’s also a slog to get through and has no sense of what it is. It’s tone-deaf, cringeworthy and almost a complete disaster, made better only by my affinity for Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott, both of whom desperately need to consider hiring new agents. Big time.
Charlie’s Angels (2019) which is set in the present, years after the events of the 00s movies opens with a somewhat entertaining prologue. We see Kristen Stewart’s Sabina having dinner with an ultra-rich misogynistic Asian dude in his Penthouse. He passes her backhanded compliments. She plays into it, even seduces him, before choking him and kicking the asses of his bodyguards — a bunch of other secret agent angels join the party, including Ella Balinska’s Jane. It’s a fine introductory scene, but something felt amiss right from the get-go. Perhaps it’s Elizabeth Banks’ (who’s the writer and director) inability to craft tension through action sequences. The rhythm is off. Or perhaps it’s her writing that falls flat. The misogynist and feminist jokes are all one-dimensional and lame; you’ll find better ones scrolling through 9Gag. That said, Stewart is so goddamn magnetic in this sequence that I found myself being hypnotised much like the rich Asian dude, Johnny.
Everything begins to falter, crumble and then completely implode from this point on, starting with its opening credits song, which feels like it belongs in a Disney Channel original movie. Anyway, the plot: Bosley (Patrick Stewart) has retired, replaced by a new Bosley played by Elizabeth Banks. And when a wide-eyed systems engineer (Naomi Scott) decides to blow the whistle on a dangerous, untested piece of tech that her company has just invented, Charlie’s Angels step in to investigate and stop this weapon from getting into the wrong hands. This premise could’ve worked either as schlocky fun ala Now You See Me or something more serious (if they wanted a reinvention) like the Bond films of the Craig era. But Banks doesn’t appear to have even the tiniest grasp on tone or character writing.
She gives us a reason to dislike the Angels very early on. After an unmemorable heist scene, a couple of the girls are trapped. They turn one of the tech thingamabobs — the one that we’re repeatedly told is highly dangerous and could be weaponized if it falls in the ‘wrong hands’ — to open the door. An innocent security guard who’s just doing his job bolts into the vicinity in search of them. Scott’s Elena tries to warn him about the EMP bomb that they’ve just set to detonate. Jane, a highly-skilled angel who we’re supposed to be rooting for tells Elena to just let it go, let the guy die. The bomb goes off and the dude actually dies. The death of the man plays off as a joke. “Collateral damage,” Sabina says is the most nonchalant Kristen Stewart-y manner. Except Banks’ Charlie’s Angels isn’t a satire — scenes that poke fun at the spy genre isn’t a regular feature in the film — and isn’t a comedy, not one that lands its jokes anyway. It’s a complete WTF scene that’s tonally jarring, mean spirited and wonderfully sums up just how little thought is put into the character writing.
Very early in the film, we’re introduced to Alexander Brock, the owner of the tech company. It’s made explicitly clear through an exchange he has with Elena that he’s a smart dude who knows his sh*t, a contrast to Nat Faxon’s character who’s a bimbotic asshole. But in the 3rd act, in a weirdly directed scene, Brock is suddenly reduced to a complete numbskull of a loser, whose head is thicker than the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Introducing the character as someone smart is a red herring, I guess.
Charlie’s Angels is, unfortunately, brimming with enough of these contrived smoke screens to make your head explode into little tiny pieces. Good guys are revealed to be bad guys who are revealed to be good guys who are revealed to be bad guys. All of it is very surprising, not because the twists and turns are smartly written, but because they are so far fetched there’s no way you could’ve thought about it using even a lick of logic. It’s so all over the place that at one point, the angels stop in their tracks to try and make sense of the red herrings. Even the characters are blown away by the hollowness and stupidity of the screenplay.
I’m not trying to nitpick what is essentially a switch-of-your-brains popcorn flick. But because the movie is not even cheaply engaging or remotely exciting — it’s a less than two-hour motion picture that feels like its three — the flaws in the writing not only stand out like a clown at a funeral, it smacks you hard like a Russian face-slapping competitor. The heist sequence is highly unimaginative and boring — there’s no creatively outrageous plan, no moments of sheer thrills, no reveal that makes you smile. A lot of it just involves the girls walking/running around. Some of the action sequences, though, are well shot and choreographed.
It completely implodes when it tries to get serious. The sequences that try to evoke weighty emotions range from middlingly awkward to supremely awkward. One scene has Jane burst into tears like a 90s cartoon character, in which Ella Baliska delivers one of the most painfully awkward moments of performances you’ll see all year. A bonafide toe-curler! Why are characters crying for each other in a manner that suggests they’ve lost their unborn child when nothing leading up to that moment suggests that they’ve bonded as sisters and built a genuine connection.
Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott are the two reasons why the film isn’t a complete wreck. Stewart is great! She has ample charisma and charm, is believable as an ass-kicker and whose sexiness is intoxicating even without the maligned ‘male gaze’. She also appears to be the only one who performed with at least a tinge of self-awareness, and gifts us with some incredibly funny moments. Naomi Scott sheds the power and steep confidence we saw in Aladdin to play a naive tech girl. She’s one of those actors who has the natural gift of being infinitely endearing, even when trapped in a film that’s infinitely unlikeable. Charlie’s Angels is exactly that: Infinitely unlikeable. A trudging experience that you fancy less and less the more you think about.
Charlie’s Angels hits Malaysian cinemas 14 November 2019.
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