FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are bosom buddies and super-spies. But when both start dating Lauren (Witherspoon), soon each is using his professional skills to keep track of the other's progress.
How to attract both men and women to the cinema in equal numbers? It’s the age-old dilemma for studios. One gender — says the conventional wisdom — wants action, explosions and large things being smashed. The other, so the story goes, prefers emotion, kisses and fabulous shoes. Here at last is a film almost scientifically designed to appeal to both camps, covering all those factors like a checklist. The good news? It’s also entertaining.
That’s largely thanks to great casting. As unhappy singleton Lauren, Reese Witherspoon pulls off the tricky task of remaining sympathetic while seeing two gorgeous men, her character trying for an insouciant approach to modern dating that clearly doesn’t come naturally. Whether she’s bonding with BFF Trish (US comedienne Chelsea Handler), trading barbs with Chris Pine or flirting with Tom Hardy, Witherspoon handles it with such finesse that you won’t realise until later how much the film depends on her walking the line between relatable to women and desirable to men, between fortunate and afflicted.
As the suitors, Pine and Hardy offer a study in contrasts. Pine is the cocky ladies’ man, Hardy the gruff loner with the soft heart. It’s familiar territory for both (cf. Star Trek; Warrior), but more importantly they convince as friends, rivals and spies. Also crucially, both men retain our sympathies by convincing us that they genuinely want Lauren and aren’t just playing to win. It’s even possible that there are also some smart observations in here about the dating game: learning more about what Lauren wants by eavesdropping on her private life, both men scramble to correct the shortcomings she perceives, resulting in some unlikely self-reflection and attempts to change how she sees them. It’s the Heisenberg uncertainty principle as it applies to dating, something we doubt was first intended.
Any such cleverness, however, is incidental to the sex-comedy shenanigans, explosions and car chases; after all, there’s bad guy Til Schweiger to contend with. The opening scene sees an undercover mission in Hong Kong somehow devolve into a shoot-out that takes in (or better, takes out) a crowded rooftop party and involves the use of wing suits; it’s not terribly original but it serves to establish the two reckless spies and their tough boss (Angela Bassett, tragically underused), as well as introducing Schweiger’s Heinrich, the focus of their investigation. A night-club punch-up around the halfway mark is much better, but the big action comes in a freeway car chase late on. Inbetween, it’s left to the spies’ scrambling attempts to outdo one another in love to raise the comedy temperature and keep the action fans happy. Their methods — spy cams; chemical warfare; use of sniper rifles in extremis — are sufficiently unorthodox to avoid romantic cliché, although rumours from the script stage of a city left in rubble by the spies’ rivalry are unrealised. Still, there’s a fair bit of collateral catastrophe and you will be left wondering how on Earth they escape this episode with their careers intact, given the blatant misuse of Bureau resources and flagrant breach of any number of laws on covert surveillance.
While the final result of all this is as slick and shiny as Hollywood can make it, the chemistry between all three leads makes this a likable and frothy confection that’s closer in tone to director McG’s TV successes — Chuck especially — than his recent cinema outings. And that is a very good thing no matter what your sex.
Smart, funny and really quite hot, this is worth a look no matter what you think of Charlie's Angels.