Review – Charlie’s Angels By The Numbers (“The 355”)

Take Charlie’s Angels, Ocean’s 8, Mission: Impossible, and the fictional Fox Force Five from Pulp Fiction, mash them all together, and this is what you get: a rag-tag team of bad-ass women all thrown together to save the world! Gee, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before? 

Ripping off the Sneakers McGuffin of a do-anything super computer thingy that can access anything, this unimaginably dangerous weapon is being passed around and sold on the black market by terrorists, and it’s up to a bunch of highly skilled women from around the world to stop the bad guys and retrieve that evil computer drive. We start with CIA operative Mason “Mace” Browne (Jessica Chastain) and her boyfriend/colleague, Nick Fowler (Sebastian Stan) who get ambushed in Paris as they try to buy the drive from a Columbian DNI agent (Edgar Ramirez). After Nick gets killed, Mace teams up with Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), an MI6 agent and computer hacker whiz, to track down the drive.

These two get unexpected help from wild card Marie Schmidt (Diane Kruger), a BND German agent, and clinical psychologist and mom, Graciela (Penelope Cruz), who hates guns and field action. Together they join forces (like Mission: Impossible) and storm a Morroco street fair to find the drive, and finally get it. Yaay! That was easy. BUT! Wouldn’tcha know it, it gets stolen again and boom! They’re off again on another wild adventure to find it! This time, the girls (like in Ocean’s 8) infiltrate a secret Shanghai auction and find the drive and see *gulp* someone unexpected!

Adding to the mischief is the auction’s mysterious Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing), who turns out to be an undercover Chinese MSS agent! Sheng joins the gang and, just when you think the movie is over and everything is hunky-dory, surprise! A third act literally comes crashing through the windows, setting up a fire-fight finale of bullets and mayhem. Whew! Have you seen this kinda movie before? Oh sure, plenty of times. From Mace’s haunted past to betrayals galore to Khadijah’s impossible cellphone that can do anything-anytime-anywhere to the timid outsider who becomes a hero in the end. Yeah, it’s all here.

Noted playwright Theresa Rebeck (she also wrote Harriet the Spy), along with director Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix), have crafted a paint-by-the-numbers, ridiculous, and silly actioner that dares you to suspend your disbelief to the breaking point. There are SO many plot holes and people making really dumb decisions, it’s shocking. Example: no one ever bothers to destroy that deadly computer drive when they have it! The dialogue is boring and trite and lifted from any NCIS procedural TV show and wow! I can’t believe the fight scenes were shot SO badly! Shaky-cam, bad jump-cuts, and slam-edits spoiled them, which is odd since Kinberg gave us one of the best fight scenes (on the train) in Dark Phoenix!! What happened? Oh, and that 355 moniker? That’s explained, but only in the last five minutes of the movie. What the . . . ??

I will give some points for the acting. Chastain is always top-notch in anything she does and Kruger has some nice kick-ass moments. Although Lupita Nyong’o plays a stoic ultra-techie, she really shines in the third act. Cruz, as the civilian attaché, handles her role quite nicely and delivers a more layered performance than the others. Then we have Sebastian Stan who we all know and love as Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier) in the MCU, but here he’s practically sleepwalking through his role. I guess he wanted to let the women shine this time, huh? All in all, the movie isn’t that bad, it’s just a long, drawn-out, carbon copy of every spy/action/adventure movie Frankensteined together. Meh, I’ve seen better.

**Now showing only in theaters.

Angels Revenge (aka Angels Brigade aka Seven From Heaven) (1979)

I have a confession, I love bad movies. Not big Hollywood movies like The War With Grandpa, but those low-budget ones. Especially when they’re torn apart by the good folks at MST3K or Rifftrax. And here’s one that fits the bill beautifully.

Co-written, produced, and directed by B-movie schlock-meister Graydon Clark (Dark Future, Final Justice), his films are notorious for awful scripts, bad acting, and super-low budget productions. This $300K actioner features cameos of many old TV stars in small roles, which took up most of that $300K. Alan Hale, Jr. & Jim Backus (Gilligan’s Island), Jack Palance (City Slickers), Rat Pack legend Peter Lawford, and talk-show host Arthur Godfrey, to name a few. Anyway, this ridiculous action/comedy has a pack of six women and one precocious teenager who band together to take down a notorious drug lord.

Told in a flashback, we begin with a raid on a drug compound by six women dressed like Evel Knievel in white stars ‘n’ stripes jumpsuits. In their A-Team-like tricked-out van, they take out the bad guys, when the action suddenly stops. Looks like it’s narration time by school teacher April (Jacqueline Cole) who tells us all about her life as a crime fighter. As a teacher, she got tired of drug pushers in town selling dope to “her kids”. Luckily (or not), one of April’s students gets hurt after stealing drugs, which prompts her famous Vegas lounge singer sister, Michelle Wilson (Susan Kiger) to come out, hook up with April, and form a team to take out that drug compound.

They recruit Vietnamese karate master, Keiko Umaro (Lieu Chinh), movie stuntwoman, motorcyclist, and ace mechanic Terry Grant (Sylvia Anderson), super-model & ex-druggie, Maria (Noela Velasco), and policewoman Elaine Brenner (Elaine Greer). And as their sidekick, teenager Trish (Liza Greer) tags along as a wanna-be groupie. They buy a van from a sleazy salesman (TV Green Acres Pat Buttram) and Keiko tortures a local drug pusher to find out who he gets the drugs from.

They also buy weapons from idiotic Cmdr. Lindsey March (Backus), a right-wing extremist from Ventura County in a very silly comedic scene that strains to play for laughs. They even have a 300lb, Hitler-moustached, pratfall-prone goon. With guns and a super-van, they successfully destroy the ranch, and then set their sites on stealing more drugs coming in via a beach drop. Mike Farrell (Palance), the chief drug lord in town, is raked over the coals by his drug czar boss (Lawford) and told to kill those meddling girls. Farrell ends up kidnapping April, which makes the others assemble into a fighting team to attack the palatial hilltop home where she’s being held captive.

Yeah, it’s pretty dumb, with some of the worst acting and directing around! Many of the seven women had previous B-movie experience (and it shows), while a few had better-acting chops. It’s especially sad to see movie legends like Palance and Lawford reduced to doing dismal schlock like this just for a paycheck. Lawford, it was said, was drunk most of the time while shooting. Writer/director Clark cranked out B-movies from the 70’s through the late 90’s, many hilariously skewered on MST3K and Rifftrax. I got a chance to see this movie ripped by MST3K alumni Mary Jo Pehl & Bridget Nelson for Rifftrax, which you can see for free on the Tubi streaming service.    

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