Review – The A-Team June 24, 2010

The following originally appeared in The Peak. This movie was a quarter good. I really wanted to like it.


That this movie exists to be reviewed is a depressing fact, but that such a ridiculous premise could not be leveraged into a thoroughly ridiculous and entertaining package is even more so. The A-Team is an oddly appealing film, one that could easily be dismissed as yet another of this summer’s string of cinematic abortions, but defies becoming a total write-off. Unfortunately, being within arm’s reach of fun is just another one of its many crimes.

The A-Team follows the titular group — Hannibal, the idea man (Liam Neeson); Face, the charmer (Bradley Cooper); Murdock, the driver and pilot (Sharlto Copley of recent deserved District 9 fame); and B.A., the muscle (Quinton Jackson) — in what amounts to the exposition of how the group came to be the mercenary organization explored in the original television series. Their betrayal by the United States Army (represented by Jessica Biel, someone people keep confusing for an actress) and Central Intelligence Agency (moreover a rogue agent, played convincingly as always by a strong Patrick Wilson), force them to use their particular and varied skills to bust out of incarceration and clear their names, dismantling a shady conspiracy, and doing some spectacular property damage along the way. The central MacGuffin revolves around some thinly explained plates used to press greenbacks, but they serve only to facilitate a string of even thinner stunt set-pieces.

Perhaps even more perplexing than The A-Team’s existence is the way it entered kicking and screaming into the world. Helmed by the (previously?) promising Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, Narc), the film clips along in a familiar way: its lack of interesting plot developments is masked expertly by sharp editing and an eye for bombast. Neeson remarks that overkill is underrated, a tagline that clearly influenced the production, but after over 10 years of development hell that saw half of Hollywood take a crack at writing a script, that excess reads like too many cooks spoiling the broth.

The A-Team defies almost every expectation it could muster. First, it is not completely terrible; its entertaining moments come from some fairly ridiculous action sequences that take the material just as seriously as possible. While trying to weave in some sobriety, the film forgets itself. It is at its best when spouting one-liners and putting the charm and insanity of Cooper and Copley centre stage. The comedy and action are almost enough to plough through painful attempts at drama and a patently horrible final climax, but it falls just short of being dismissible summer fun. Further, Carnahan is totally wasted on the film. After having made a name for himself on the spectacular Narc and the confused but wildly compelling Smokin’ Aces, he dumps his trademark analog brutality in for some half-baked CG. On its own, this wouldn’t sink him, but it is compounded by the fact that he fails to be himself. The A-Team is an almost perfect xerox of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films, but with enough Carnahan flair thrown in to defy the plagiarism charges. Right down to the excessive extended flashbacks to fill in twists, Carnahan phones in the direction and tries a bit too hard to be the arguably more appropriate director.

Neeson, Copley, and Cooper are all charming and suit their roles perfectly, but are failed by a production mired in its own excesses and greed. Part of that greed was to truncate a search for an actual actor to fill in Mr. T’s role as B.A. Baracus and instead try and tap into the UFC market with the casting of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. He is a dead physical ringer for the character, but his screen presence peaks at grating.

Like so much this summer, The A-Team reeks of a bunch of well-meaning people working on a project their studios could care less about. They see an established franchise and decide that any amount of meddling is unlikely to affect the box office take. If there is any bright side in the release of The A-Team, it is that this is likely a major nail in the coffin of these quick cash-in adaptations. Perhaps we are only a few more of these types of summer movie seasons away from some original creations, or, at the very least, adaptations made with a little more care. We can dream, can’t we?