REVIEWED: THE A-TEAM
August 4, 2010 Leave a comment
In many ways, Joe Carnahan has a very easy job in bringing the small-screen 1980s action adventure show The A-Team kicking and screaming back to our screens; fun and virulently adored though it was, it was also corny and innocuously bloodless almost to a fault. Unlike Carnahan’s best known other works – the gritty Narc and disappointing-yet-mental Smokin’ Aces – his A-Team is a goofy, sporadically entertaining outing that’s faithful to the show’s key tenets almost to the point of soulless inertia.
For a film marketed as giving explosions and mayhem precedent over lumbering exposition, The A-Team takes a damn while to get going. Beginning with a surprising and pointless origin story which bloats the running time out to 117 minutes – a good twenty minutes longer than is efficient for what is on offer – the film goes through the motions of having John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) meet B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), before forming the titular squad with Templeton “Face” Peck (Bradley Cooper) and the nutty H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdoch (Sharlto Copley). Fortunately, Carnahan at least knows the film’s main appeal – absolutely ridiculous action – and from the moment B.A. is left hanging out of a falling helicopter, it is clear that we could be left in far worse hands despite the film’s shopping list of misfires.
With Carnahan’s direction suitably unhinged, the success of The A-Team rests largely on the cast. Neeson slinks comfortably into his role as the gruff leader, while Cooper is the charming eye candy and Copley plays the crazed, somewhat annoying oddball well, yet the real challenge – of course – is finding an actor with the screen presence to fill Mr. T’s sizable shoes. Jackson does fairly well with what he has, yet the script – which calls for B.A. to have a crisis of character and temporarily repent his violent ways – leaves him stewing in anxiety for far too long while kicking ass not near enough.
While incredibly sketchy – in that the actual plot that gets the team wrongfully imprisoned is virtually inconsequential – there is some fun to team planning their next ludicrous escape and then having the plan “come together”. This formula made the series work, and outside of anything resembling a narrative, the action sequences – with each delivering more gloriously inane, physically impossible, video game-inspired thrills than the one that preceded it – do distract from what is a noticeably, maybe even intentionally sloppy production.
It isn’t until the forty-minute mark that out heroes wind up in prison, and again, Carnahan goes through the motions of everything the marketing clued us up on months ago, even if the prison escape sequences are quite amusing. Similarly, the film’s surplus of CGI-inspired mayhem – the best of which involves steering a free-falling tank with the force of its weapons array – is suitably immense and rather hilarious. While Smokin’ Aces was pretty nuts, this is Carnahan at his most unrestrained, drawing attention to the ropey CGI and sheer silliness of it all, which certainly makes it all the more tolerable. However, the madness of the visceral execution really brings home how uninspired and forgettable the key supporting performances are by comparison; Patrick Wilson is adequate if sadly irony-free as a shady CIA Agent, while Jessica Biel goes through the mandated steps as a straight-laced DCIS officer, yet never exploits her sexiness for what it’s worth.
Through and through, it is the action, if anything, that saves this film from certain mediocrity; it is sheer, inspired lunacy, from gliding down skyscrapers, to using helicopters to catch people like a cherry picker. The plot, meanwhile, is as rote and flaky as, well, its TV show forebear. Like Guy Ritchie’s disappointing Sherlock Holmes retooling, Carnahan has reinforced convention to the point of redundancy, yet at least this one is frenetic enough to be intermittently fun when it isn’t moored in exposition and flat, broad humour. The dialogue clings to needless, padded detail, and too often references pop culture (such as the Blue Man Group, Braveheart and Call of Duty), causing its attempt at 80s schlock-homage to come across as awkward and anachronistic.
The finale keeps in the film’s silly vein, overdosing on effects and one admittedly quite slick sleight of hand, yet it feels like a crass and mechanised computer simulation without enough of the charm or guile of the original characters to compensate, by no fault of the actors, mind, who do solid work throughout. Of course, this is all really just a “pilot” episode; a sequel is likely if the film finds legs (though its U.S. box office has been lukewarm at best), yet if it follows this sporadic, overlong schematic, it is probably best not to bother.