Monday, January 31, 2011

The A-Team: Like G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, Only Worse Than One Expects.

The Good: Moments of action, Moments of humor, Surprisingly (enough) decent acting
The Bad: Predictable, Generally brainless, Trite dialogue, Annoyingly obvious plot reversals, Characters who are hard to empathize with.
The Basics: A predictably droll film, The A-Team is not worse than anyone ought to expect going into it, but it’s still bad enough to pass by.

Two summers ago, I felt the need to break from my frequently harsh (appearing) reviews in order to acknowledge the film G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (reviewed here!) was not a terrible cinematic work, but rather was exactly what one might have expected of it going into the theater, no more no less. In other words, it is sometimes hard to be down on brainless action adventure films when one goes into the theater pretty much figuring that is what they are going to be watching. That is exactly where I fell on The A-Team, though it was still hard to get over how bad it was. It is not any more horrible than one might expect going into it whether or not they have seen the previews. It is an action adventure film which has a very “guy” feel to it. And while that might not be the most inspired type of film ever, it is what it is and The A-Team is a very average example of what the genre can provide.

Prior to seeing the film, I took in the graphic novel The A-Team: War Stories (reviewed here!) and surprisingly that filled in some of the glaring character gaps that the film left open. Thus, anyone hoping to have a better feel for the characters in the cinematic rendition of The A-Team may want to pick that trade paperback anthology up first. That said, The A-Team follows the adventure of four former U.S. Military Special Operations soldiers who have fallen out of favor with the U.S. Government.

After meeting in Mexico, where Hannibal and Face run into B.A. and Murdock. Their success at survival there puts them together as part of a covert military force, an A-team. However, after years together, they find themselves in Iraq, on a mission to destroy counterfeit currency plates which will destabilize the region and Iraq’s economy. When their mission goes wrong, with them successfully destroying the counterfeit money, but not the plates used to make it, Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdock are sentenced to life in prison. They manage a series of jailbreaks (they are imprisoned separately) and a special investigator, Charisa Sosa is set upon them. While Sosa tries to hunt down the four fugitives, the four men work to figure out who is behind the mission that cost them their jobs and their legitimate status.

Sadly, there is little to write about the plot of The A-Team that does not point to exactly who is the culprit because, like many of these movies there are no true surprises for real movie buffs. Instead, this is very much a by-the-books action-adventure film even if it is a reimagining of the original television series, not a continuation of it. As a result, Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdock are all Gulf War veterans, not Vietnam vets. However, the basic characterization of each one remains the same. For those unfamiliar with it (I hadn’t seen an episode of the series since I was, maybe, ten years old) that means that Hannibal is the leader, Face is the ladies man, B.A. is the bad-tempered muscle and Murdock is a chopper pilot who is crazy, but has lucid moments.

All of the characters in this film are types, not distinct characters. B.A. is angry and often ridiculous, Murdock is a generic form of pop-culture crazy (i.e. actually diagnosing him would be fun if it weren’t for the fact that he was written with no specific pathology). So, for example, Murdock may be completely crazed in one moment, shouting and carrying on and then as the plot-convenient moment arrives, he is completely focused. There’s no real menace to moments that hinge on Murdock because the viewer knows that he’ll snap out of it just in time. Sadly, it’s That Kind Of Movie.

Similarly, Hannibal and Face work better as a couple than they do in the scenes where they are separated. Face is slick and Hannibal is solid, so they have an “odd couple” quality to them that works within the confines of that type relationship. Beyond that, Hannibal is generic leader, Face is generic suave guy and Sosa is generic huntress adversary with not even as much motivation as Tommy Lee Jones’ character in The Fugitive.

The result is a movie that strings along a lot of fast moving vehicles (of all sorts), gunfights and explosions. The film looks good thanks to director (and co-writer) Joe Carnahan, but it does not feel fresh or new (though I stretch to recall a movie where I’ve seen a tank get dropped from a plane) despite moving along at a generally quick pace.

Ultimately, the biggest surprise for me was not the plot or the packaging, but the acting. The acting is of a caliber that knocks the movie up into the lowest part of “average” territory, even if I cannot recommend it. First, Patrick Wilson is remarkably good as the military officer, Lynch, who gives a more relaxed performance than I’ve seen from him. Sharlto Copley is more fluid than he was in District 9 and Quinton Jackson does all he has to as B.A. by showing up, looking tough and growling many of his lines. Bradley Cooper sells Face as a smarmy, womanizing guy and he does it well. In fact, one has to wonder how J.J. Abrams managed to keep him in such a sedate role on Alias given how he becomes a true action hero in The A-Team.

Unfortunately, the most erratic performance comes from Liam Neeson. For sure, Neeson is a truly great actor and he sells the idea of Hannibal as leader perfectly. What he doesn’t sell is the voice. Neeson’s Hannibal is an American who slips into his Irish accent at embarrassing intervals and that Carnahan didn’t have Neeson return for more passable a.d.r. is baffling.

Even so, The A-Team isn’t bad, okay, it’s pretty bad, so rather, it is bad more because it was supposed to be than because the writers and director tried to do something truly original. This is a violent, action-packed remake of a very simple, mediocre 1980s action-drama. As a follow-up to that, all involved did the best they could. It just wasn’t able to become anything extraordinary.

For other films featuring Liam Neeson, please check out my reviews of:
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
The Next Three Days
Clash Of The Titans
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
Love Actually
Star Wars – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Schindler’s List


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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