Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove)

Part travelogue, part political statement, part coming-of-age drama —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Elizabeth Banks offers penance for many of McG’s cinematic sins with this reboot of Charlie’s Angels. But she also commits a couple of her own.

Three Little Girls

Checking out the wares and wears
Checking out the wares and wears

Subtlety has never been a part of the Charlie’s Angels franchise, in all its seasons and reboots. It’s always been more about the jiggle than the genius, with the original TV series of the mid-1970s offering merely a modest Mensa makeover compared to the Bond girls of the time.

In this latest reboot, it’s time for a turning of the tables. Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games series) writes and directs this reinvention at times with a savvy velvet glove and at times with a sledgehammer in that velvet glove.

It’s clear from the outset this movie has an agenda. One of the first lines is, “I think women can do anything.” It’s part of a tasty conversation of tease and temptation between an Angel, Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper), and her charming target, Jonny Smith (Chris Pang, Crazy Rich Asians), during a posh encounter in Rio. He’s been embezzling money from women, children and — gasp — refugees! Sabina smoothly seduces Jonny right into her web, almost literally.

With that mission in the bag — badda bing — there’s a montage of girls and young women from a range of cultures and ethnicities playing sports and pursuing other activities. Badda boom. It’s a what-the-heck-was-that montage of females. Not a dude in sight. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the problem is the sequence comes out of nowhere and it doesn’t fit. Later on, it seems as though some of the girls in those clips are encountered by the Angels. But, if that’s the intent, then it would’ve worked better at the end of the movie — maybe demonstrating the impact meeting the Angels had on the girls, inspiring them to a higher calling.

But, then again, maybe that’s simply too subtle and thoughtful an approach for this adventure in female superiority.

Who’s the Bosley?

Perhaps the only subtle thing about this Charlie’s Angels is its limited use of the original theme music. Unlike McG’s movies, this one eschews the bulk of the Angels conventions. The familiar opening exposition about “three little girls” turning into Charlie’s Angels? It’s gone. The Townsend Agency is still their employer, but Bosley is no longer a surname; it’s now a rank in the agency. Chalk that one up to the same lazy mindset that turned XXX into a rank in XXX: State of the Union. Here, there are Bosleys all over the world. Even Michael Strahan is a Bosley.

They’re all gathered — after that Rio episode — to bid a fond farewell to Bosley 001, played by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation). He’s retiring after 40 years of service to the agency. The celebrations include some heinously bad Photoshop jobs showing Stewart’s Bosley with the original TV Angels and other franchise characters through the decades. Unfortunately, David Doyle’s original John Bosley isn’t acknowledged. Similarly, Bill Murray’s John Bosley (from the 2000 McG movie) is nowhere to be seen; he must’ve been too busy with his forced cameo in Zombieland: Double Tap. Then there was that weirdness with Bernie Mac as Jimmy Bosley in McG’s 2003 follow-up, Full Throttle.

Give credit where it’s due, this adventure is superior to those McG movies. Better tone, better action; less ditzy, cheesy humor. And there’s a fair — not exemplary — stab at crafting a story.

The Calisto Catalyst

That story — in short — involves the weaponization of a new, super-duper virtual assistant named Calisto. Think of Alexa or Siri on steroids. For that matter, think about Charlie. Maybe that voice isn’t male after all.

There’s some techno babble about energy efficiency, but when it comes right down to it, the Calisto devices could be used as tools for assassinations. A whistleblower, Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott, Aladdin), wants to alert the tech titan Alexander Brok (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). And so it begins. A corporate coverup, intrigue and a double-agent or two.

Even with this effort breaking all previous Angel conventions, it’s conspicuous there are only two Angels, Sabina and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska, TV’s The Athena). Yeah. Okay. It’s not much of a surprise when Elena is brought into the ranks of the Angels. (For the love of Pete — or Pat, if you will — she’s an Angel in the movie posters.)

But that’s also part of the problem. Banks’ screenplay tries to build suspense and twists, but it’s all seen from several miles away, given the movie from the outset makes clear there is a women-power agenda afoot. The audience is then left to simply enjoy the ride and the table-turning, which is fine enough for an escapist piece of entertainment.

Angel Soft

Once an Angel, always fashionable
Once an Angel, always fashionable

Of the three Angels, Kristen Stewart comes off the best — far and away. Hers is by far the most developed character. She’s the product of a troubled past. She has lesbian leanings. She packs quite a bit of attitude.

Unfortunately, Jane doesn’t have much depth, other than her deep-seated rivalry with Sabina. Elena offers up plenty of humor as the green Angel, but given her supposed technical savvy, she should carry herself with a higher level of sophistication and less endearing goofiness. That’s too… Oh, perish the thought… That’s too stereotypical.

While Banks does her best to ground the action in some sort of reality — or, at least, in a universe where things like gravity still apply — there’s one sequence which is way off key. It’s a strange scene in a café in which a man is clacking away at a typewriter — an old school clackity-clack typewriter, of the ribbon and paper variety. It’s not any ol’ old school, noisy typewriter. It even has a rearview mirror for ease of spying. Oh. So. Not. Subtle. That’s no way to blend in and disappear, to act inconspicuous while scoping out the asset, especially when the man at the keyboard is revealed to be a master assassin.

So many assassins in the world of cinema these days.

Maybe the biggest disappointment in this Charlie’s Angels is in how it ultimately betrays these ladies of adventure. Maybe it’s simply inevitable, but even these tough, sophisticated and streetwise crime fighters can’t resist a glitzy outfit. Their giant, multi-room closet of fashionable gowns and CFMPs also features explosive jewelry and Altoids that are curiously strong in a wholly different way.

That wardrobe segment leads to thoughts of another assassin, John Wick, and the clever world he inhabits, a world that has its own language as he shops ultra-ritzy boutiques for the latest in ammo and eveningwear.

Banks aimed to take this material higher and she succeeded, to a point. This is certainly a more forward-leaning take on the Angels universe, but it could’ve demonstrated levels of sophistication that go beyond merely table turning.

But, maybe next time. Surely these Angels will take flight again.