In typical Hollywood style, the ’80s television show The A-Team has been revived and reinvented in the form of an over-the-top, big-budget summer blockbuster. With the cheesy source material in mind, this new movie is more or less what you’d expect: chaotic, loud, overwrought, illogical and violent – everything that’s wrong with Hollywood movies today. While this somewhat enjoyable film can be admired for living up to its source material in this sense, The A-Team is by no stretch a good movie. Instead, it’s a flashy succession of meaningless gags and elaborate set-pieces, some of which work while others don’t, but none of which add up to anything substantial. Additionally, it’s difficult to watch The A-Team without your nostrils being filled by the stench of commerce – after all, it is a blockbuster adaptation of a popular TV show, funded by the soulless, cash-grabbing folks at 20th Century Fox.
In comic book parlance, The A-Team is infused with an origins narrative designed to show how a group of characters arrive at a familiar point. In the original series, the titular team were an elite group of ex-military mercenaries who were incarcerated for a crime they didn’t commit. The basic gist of the set-up is retained in this version, and given a contemporary spin. The team is comprised of the gruff Hannibal Smith (Neeson), the muscular behemoth B.A. Baracus (Jackson), the womanising Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck (Cooper), and the unbalanced but brilliant pilot ‘Mad’ Murdock. After a series of impromptu meetings in Mexico during several unrelated adventures, the four men team up and quickly make a name for themselves as the most successful and effective alpha unit that the U.S. Military has to offer. Towards the end of the Iraq War, the team are framed and sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. Subsequently, they all escape from prison and set out to clear their names.
The A-Team appears to take place in an alternate, cartoonish universe where the laws of physics do not apply and the bad guys are unable to fire guns with any semblance of accuracy. In fact, the only time a member of the A-Team is injured by a bullet is due to friendly fire. The screenplay (cooked up by nearly a dozen writers, who worked on it for many years) has no interest at all in logic or even character motivation, leaving it almost impossible to figure out what the bad guys want, where they are, or who they are trying to kill. A bunch of counterfeit plates constitute the MacGuffin of the plot, yet this MacGuffin is stale and boring. The flat nature of the story is accentuated by a lack of surprises. There’s something approximating a plot twist, yet it’s not of the truly shocking variety. To the credit of the writers, however, there are a few nice moments of comedy, and the script managed to retain Hannibal’s lust for exhaustive preparation, leading to a few hearty weapons-manufacturing montages. The plans that the team conceive, too, are clever and smart. Thus, The A-Team is a bit of a contradictory film in the sense that it’s both powerfully dumb and smartly-constructed.
Those wanting to watch The A-Team are most likely wanting to see some action, yet the quality of the action is drastically mixed. It would seem director Joe Carnahan and his team were incapable of filming and editing action sequences in a coherent manner. Action junkies will no doubt be unsatisfied by the embrace of chaotic, “modern” action techniques reminiscent of Michael Bay movies, with ultra fast cuts, a constantly moving camera and irritating close-ups which will likely leave viewers wondering what on earth is going on during the middle of a battle. Even the hand-to-hand combat sequences are muddled and incoherent, not to mention a few crucial explication sequences suffer similarly, which means viewers will have to wait for the smoke to clear until they can determine what just happened. The intended sense of fun manages to come through from time to time, but it’s nothing compared to what a more skilled action director could have delivered.
The PG-13 rating no doubt has something to do with the filming style, as the director had to stage action which would not necessitate shots of blood being spilled. While the original television show was PG and nobody was ever killed, this A-Team incarnation indeed features people getting shot. When people are shot and no blood is spilled, it detracts from the reality of the situation. It’s also worth noting that, although the film boasts frequent action, there’s little in the way of suspense or tension. This is because there’s no willingness to kill off any main characters, meaning we know all of the characters will survive every perilous situation. Added to this, the memorable, zingy theme of The A-Team is used only rarely. It would have afforded an added zip to the action, yet the filmmakers continually opted to rely on Alan Silvestri’s generic, forgettable score.
Thankfully, the new cast managed to do an admirable job of imitating their 1980s counterparts. The always-reliable Liam Neeson is suitably authoritative, wise and gruff as the A-Team’s elder. Bradley Cooper (recently seen making a name for himself in films like The Hangover, He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day) is ideal as Face – he managed to imbue his portrayal of the character with a smug, roguish charm while simultaneously making him a credible military man. In playing Murdock, Sharlto Copley proved that his acting debut in 2009’s District 9 was no fluke. Copley’s performance is spot-on, and he managed to hide his African accent commendably (though it’s used as a joke at one point). The only weak link of the four is Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as B.A. Baracus, who’s neither a good actor nor Mr. T – he comes across as a mere buffoon, not a genuinely intimidating threat. Mr. T is sorely missed (and he reportedly hated this movie adaptation). Jessica Biel, meanwhile, is the eye candy, and she does a weak job in her role as Sosa. As the villains of the picture, Patrick Wilson (Lynch) chews the scenery in his terrific performance, and Brian Bloom (Pike) is adequate.
The A-Team is overly cartoonish, to be sure. But the main problem is that it’s not cartoonish enough. In contrast with flat-out insane action flicks like Crank and Shoot ‘Em Up, The A-Team asks us to take it seriously too many times, rather than laughing constantly and enjoying the ride. Let’s face it, too, if the film was called anything other than The A-Team, you wouldn’t put up with its flaws. You’d demand to know why the laws of physics do not apply, or how fugitives are able to travel the world with unlimited resources, money and weapons. You’d also like to find out how all the capers were achieved. This is not a bad film per se, but it’s distinctly mediocre, and feels utterly disposable – just like the majority of action movies released in recent years. Had the action been better framed and presented, this could have been one of 2010’s action high points. As it is, it’s just a barely passable diversion. Oh well, at least it’s better than The Losers.