Elizabeth Banks’ Kristin Stewart-starring reboot of venerable TV series “Charlie’s Angels” is a disappointment.
A concept in search of a movie, “Charlie’s Angels” wants to take the venerable franchise in a new direction. The goal is exemplary, the execution nothing to write home about.
When it came out in 1976 on ABC, there was nothing about the crime-fighting exploits of three women (Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith starred) that would predict five seasons on TV followed by a pair of motion pictures.
But here we are more than 40 years later with yet another feature film, written (from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn) and directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also has a key role.
Banks made her directorial debut with the very successful “Pitch Perfect 2,” about the further exploits of an all-female a capella group, so it’s no surprise that her version of the Angels (“Sworn To Secrecy, Bound By Sisterhood” is the tagline) feels pitched to please a similar audience.
First and foremost, this “Angels” has its empowerment of female credentials in good order. The film’s opening features a montage of girls doing it all, its first line of dialogue is “I think women can do everything,” and the closing montage shows us powerful women like race car driver Danica Patrick and former mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey doing what they do best.
This is all to the good, not to mention long overdue, but outside of public service announcements good intentions do not necessarily make for an involving viewing experience.
Instead of engaging what we get is a plodding, unfocused effort with few genuine thrills to speak of, the kind of movie that would play best on an airplane when you are eager to kill time.
In its defense, “Charlie’s Angels” would say it’s not trying to be “Captain Marvel,” that it’s intentionally going for a light comic effect. But the comedy feels largely forced, and if you are old enough to get the film’s “Birdman of Alcatraz” joke — yes, there is one — the proceedings are unlikely to involve you.
The film’s core idea is a solid one. Taking advantage of the notion that it’s been more than 40 years since that first TV appearance, this “Charlie’s Angels” imagines the Townsend Agency, founded by the mysterious Charlie with the closed-mouthed Bosley as his No. 2, having expanded with bureaus all over the world.
In fact, the name Bosley has now become a rank (“like lieutenant” someone helpfully explains), and as the film opens, a former Angel turned Bosley (played by Banks) is spearheading a retirement party for the original John Bosley (Patrick Stewart), a senior citizen headed for retirement after all those decades on the job.
As for the Angels, at the film’s start we deal with only two, starting with Sabina Wilson (an unexpected Kristen Stewart), a wild and crazy individual introduced in a long blond wig vamping a criminal figure in Rio as part of a sting operation.
Coming in to help with the job is former MI-6 agent Jane Kano (Ella Balinska), as pulled together as Sabina is off the wall.
Naturally these two do not get along, and when they are reunited in Paris a year later, with Jane training under Edgar Bosley (Djimon Hounsou), their lack of harmony is still front and center.
We also meet Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott, “Aladdin’s” Princess Jasmine). She’s a key cog in a company that created Calisto, a new sustainable alternate energy source that has an unfortunate side effect: It could kill people. When her bosses won’t let Elena fix the flaw, she goes to the Angels for help.
This seems like a simple assignment at first, but soon enough Really Bad People get involved, epitomized by the tattooed and dangerous Hodak (Jonathan Tucker), the only opponent in the film who comes off as legitimately threatening.
When Hodak goes on the attack, Elena becomes a blubbering wreck, a situation that is played, not successfully, as broad comedy. Fortunately, the other two women take Elena under their wing, so speak, and she becomes an Angel-in-training.
This much sounds simple, but as the Angels try to stop Calisto from falling into the hands of those Really Bad People, the pace slackens and the plot gets overly complicated. Despite all its hand-to-hand fighting, the latest “Charlie’s Angels” never really gets a proper grip on things.
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15 in general release