Monday, June 14, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team

The A-Team **
Directed by:
Joe Carnahan.
Written By: Joe Carnahan & Brian Bloom and Skip Woods based on the TV series created by Frank Lupo & Stephen J. Cannell.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Hannibal), Bradley Cooper (Lt. Templeton 'Faceman' Peck), Jessica Biel (Charisa Sosa), Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (B.A. Baracus), Sharlto Copley (Murdock), Patrick Wilson (Lynch), Gerald McRaney (General Morrison), Henry Czerny (Director McCready), Yul Vazquez (General Javier Tuco), Brian Bloom (Pike).

The A-Team is a big, loud, stupid, lazy action movie. Most of those adjectives would probably apply to the original TV show from the 1980s, but I can’t really say. Although I know I watched it as a kid – and that’s why we had the A-Team van and some action figures for the show – other than the iconic opening song, I cannot recall anything about the original show. This unnecessary update will likely appeal to fans of the show, and undiscerning action movie fans of any strip – the ones who don’t really care about anything other than seeing stuff blow up really good. And the movie does that – a lot. At times, when I was able to completely turn off my brain, I actually kind of enjoyed the film – but you can only turn off your brain for so long before it starts telling you the movie you’re watching is just plain dumb.

Co-written and directed by Joe Carnhan, The A-Team is yet another movie about a ragtag group of military men, set up for a crime they didn’t commit and have to go on the run to try and prove their innocence. The team is led by Hannibal (Liam Neesom), a charming, grey haired man constantly chomping on his cigar. His team includes Face (Bradley Cooper), the ladies man of the group, B.A. (Quinton Jackson), an angry African American with a Mohawk and Murdock (Sharlto Copley), an insane pilot. Those bare character descriptions are about as deep as the movie gets on any of its characters.

This time, they are in Iraq just as American forces are about to pull out (making this some sort of futuristic fantasy movie) when they learn that the Iraqis are moving a series of currency plates for American money that will allow them to print billions of dollars of unsupported American currency. CIA agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) goes to Hannibal with the assignment, and his commanding officer (Gerard “Major Dad” McCraney) agrees, even though Captain Sosa (Jessica Biel) thinks the assignment is hers. Of course, things get screwed up, McCraney is killed, the plates go missing and Hannibal and his team are court marshaled, dishonorably discharged and sent to separate maximum security prisons for 10 years each. And of course, they aren’t going to be in those prisons for very long.

The plot of The A-Team is barely worth mentioning, because it is so thin that its barely there. It doesn’t really matter what the team is chasing, just that there are chasing it, and there are people who have a vested interest in seeing that they fail. I understand that most action movies, even the good ones, get away with similar thin plots because they are not about their plots – they are about action, and the relationship between the stars. The problem with this movie is that you don’t care about the team. Neesom smirks his way through his role as Hannibal – you never really feel how committed he says he is to the rest of his team, and you never understand why his team is so willing to follow him anywhere on his insane plans. Cooper is capable of being a charming actor, and he really does try here as Face, but I had trouble believing him as an army man though – it’s like his character from The Hangover simply picked up a gun. The series most iconic character was undoubtedly Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus, but you know they didn’t know who to cast when they cast UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the role. Jackson isn’t much of an actor, but then he isn’t given much to do either. Too many “I pity to the fool” lines, and he would look ridiculous, and so the movie kind of skimps of him completely. The only one of the four I really liked was Sharlto Copley, from last year’s District 9, who has all the best lines as the insane Murdoch. No, the movie doesn’t explore his character any more than the others, but he at least seems to be having fun. The rest of the cast – from Jessica Biel to Patrick Wilson to Gerard McCraney to Brian Bloom – seem to be sleepwalking through their underwritten roles.

Joe Carnahan was at one point a promising filmmaker. After making what I thought was a horrible debut with Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane for almost no money, we went on to make the great cop drama Narc, with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta’s best roles in years, and the tremendous guilty pleasure Smokin’ Aces – which was just as big and loud as The A-Team, but was also incredibly entertaining. But with The A-Team, he has struck out. Starting a little bit in Smokin’ Aces, it seemed like Carnahan wanted to become the next Michael Bay – with the same rapid fire, yet incoherent editing style. His writing, which was clever in Smokin’ Aces compensated for that. But in The A-Team, it doesn’t simply because he doesn’t give us a single character who is interesting. The film is never boring – it is far too loud and moves way too quickly for that – but it never comes together into anything that you would actually enjoy sitting through. Carnahan needs to slow down.

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