The A-Team: More Like The B Minus Team

The first few scenes in The A-Team had me excited that this was going to be the blissfully silly action-packed ridiculousness that the trailers promised us it would be. It treats the characters as icons– mythical gods in a world where physics and reality apply to others but not to them. They know when to make the entrance. They know how to plan out the impossible plan. They know exactly when to reveal what they’re hiding up their sleeve as the music blares its recognizable theme. The problem is two-fold: though it seems like the script of a fluffy summer explosion bonanza isn’t important, The A-Team shows how important it is, since there are no iconic one-liners or images, and the actors are left to fight for the scraps of quality writing remaining in the hollowed-pages. The other problem is the action, which is edited so choppily that it’s often hard to tell what’s happening to the effects which at times are average at best. Sure, The A-Team is diverting, disposable summer fun. But I pity the fool who thinks this is the best A-Team movie they could have made.

Hannibal (Liam Neeson)– he makes the plans. Face (Bradley Cooper)– he gets the girls. B.A. (Rampage Jackson)– he kicks the ass. Murdock (Sharlto Copley)– he flies the planes. Together, they form an alpha unit that, according to Face’s former flame Lieutenant Sosa (Jessica Biel), “specializes in the ridiculous.” All of their plans require pinpoint precision and flawless execution. When they are set up by unknown forces while doing a favor for a CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson), and end up in prison, only one thing is on their minds– escaping and clearing their names, while finding whose responsible and bringing them to justice. Meanwhile, they’re pursued by the police, army officials headed by Sosa, a private security squad headed by the villainous Pike (Brian Bloom), and the CIA headed by Lynch. There are also boring subplots you don’t care about, like B.A. refusing to kill anyone after prison (you know he will) and Face being upset that he never can come up with a good plan (you know he will).

The best part of the film is the performances. The casting of the A-Team itself is more or less perfect. Neeson and Cooper show glimmers of their normal charm, especially at the very beginning, but the whole thing becomes so frantic and the dialogue becomes so scattershot that their full potential isn’t realized. Rampage Jackson does pretty good work, but again, very few one-liners and not too much charm– I wonder what someone like Terry Crews could have done with this role. The best member of the team itself is Copley as Murdock, who dives headfirst and makes the most of the insane actions he’s given (odd that the person with the most boring role in the team comes off as the most interesting in the film). Biel stands around and looks pretty, but Bloom certainly has proper villainous menace. I was especially pleased with Patrick Wilson, a Broadway vet who normally has to play the bland straight guy, but here, like Jason Patric in The Losers, he gets to ham it up and chew the scenery as the cocky CIA jerk who feels he’s untouchable. He has many of the best lines and moments in the film.

This film has a lot in common with The Losers, actually– a highly skilled task force with specialized agents who get double crossed and then have to find a way to steal their lives back from the government that rejected them. One would have thought, however, with the much larger budget and the already-established characters, The A-Team would be a more successful venture. Although the level of the absurd is higher here, so many of the action sequences are so choppy that one can barely tell who’s hitting who and who’s blowing up what. There are moments of clarity, but the fact that I had to actively work hard to try to determine what was going on is a problem in itself– clarity of geography shouldn’t be the result of hard audience work, it should be a given. While Sylvain White gave The Losers a more Tarantino-esque feel, full of cool music and slow motion, Joe Carnahan opts for the Jerry Bruckheimer school of frenetic camerawork and action. The visual choice diminishes the swagger of the characters to a degree.

People tend to think writing a good action movie is easy. However, there’s an obvious wit required to creating a clever action sequence or to revealing the nature of your cool character through quippy zingers. Nikki Finke has already covered how this film went through a double-digit number of writers, and that doesn’t surprise me. The end result– illogical witless action and a shockingly dull script– is actually far easier than writing a good action movie. Now, I’m not necessarily looking for my action scenes to make sense in the real world; I like the Transporter films (1 and 2, at least), I find joy in old Stallone and Schwarzenegger films, and I found The Losers to be a good time. However, when every scene is the same, the fun grows monotonous. Hannibal makes a plan, there’s cutting between Hannibal’s explanation and the execution of the early stages of the plan, a character makes an entrance conveniently timed to come right after a villain’s one-liner, and Murdock flies a plane that B.A. is tricked into getting onto. There’s pleasure to be had here, and any film that attempts to have its characters flying a free-falling tank at least had its heart in the right place, trying its best to achieve the bliss that a silly absurd action movie can provide. It never reaches its full potential, however. In The A-Team, the A must stand for “Alright.”

~ by russellhainline on June 18, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: