June 11, 2010

A-Team, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



A-Team, The

ACTION:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-06-11

Running Length:

1:57

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessic Biel, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, Henry Dzerny, Brian Bloom

Director:

Joe Carnahan

Screenplay:

Joe Carnahan & Brian Blom & Skip Woods

Cinematography:

Marco Fiore

Music:

Alan Silvestri

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


The A-Team represents the motion picture industry's male-oriented answer to such franchises as Sex and the City and Twilight. To combat the new wave of estrogen-powered movies, Fox has fallen back on a tried-but-true formula: the adrenaline-and-testosterone cocktail. The vehicle for this volatile mix is a revived '80s TV show that has been resurrected with its blend of tongue-and-cheek humor and over-the-top action intact. I'm not sure many were clamoring for a new iteration of The A-Team, but the premise is a solid match for two hours of dumb plot and dumber action. The production offers a level of non-intellectual entertainment, although the true action junkie may find the buzz dulled somewhat by director Joe Carnahan's embrace of "modern" action techniques, with fast cuts and a constantly moving camera often making it tough to figure out what the hell's going on in the midst of a pitched battle.

In comic book parlance, this is an "origin" story, explaining how a group of characters gets to a familiar point. In the TV series, the A-Team was an elite group of mercenaries, ex-military types who were wrongly accused of a crime they did not commit. The A-Team provides the back-story, although attempting to pay more than cursory attention to the plot is not advisable. The purpose of the razor-thin narrative is to introduce the characters, provide them with some good one-liners, and - most important of all - allow for all sorts of mayhem. Michael Bay, one suspects, would be proud.

The A-Team is comprised of four classic characters (at least to the extent that anything from '80s TV can be considered "classic"). The gruff, smart leader is Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), who lives by his motto of loving it when a plan comes together. He is joined by the mohawked behemoth, B.A. Baracus (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson), who provides the muscle; cocky Templeton 'Faceman' Peck (Bradley Cooper), who is easily distracted by a pretty face; and 'Mad' Murdock (Sharlto Copley), an unbalanced but brilliant pilot. An elite unit of the military in Iraq, they are framed for stealing counterfeit engraving plates and sent to prison. With the connivance of CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson), they escape to clear their names. To accomplish that goal, however, they must evade pursuit by a military team led by Lieutenant Sosa (Jessica Biel), and track down a dangerous underground operative named Pike (Brian Bloom).

The A-Team takes place in the kind of alternate, cartoon-inspired universe where the laws of physics are frequently suspended on a whim and in which the bad guys (more often than not) can't shoot straight. The only time a member of the A-Team is injured by a bullet occurs as a result of friendly fire. There are red herrings and close calls, but such is the stuff of B-movies. Nonstop action holds a certain, undeniable appeal but Carnahan occasionally spoils the fun by employing the jittery approach to presenting action scenes. I have seen worse, but there are occasions during the course of The A-Team when it's necessary to wait until the smoke has cleared to determine precisely what has happened. It's also worth noting that, although The A-Team boasts wall-to-wall action, there's not much in the way of suspense. The campy humor helps to compensate, however. This isn't one of those cheesy TV shows that has been re-imagined with an unwarranted seriousness for the big screen. Carnahan nails the appeal of The A-Team to a "T."

The new cast does an admirable job aping the old one. Liam Neeson, who has recently begun appearing in a number of low-intelligence, high-profile motion pictures, is suitably wise and witty as the A-Team's elder statesman, although he lacks the panache of George Peppard. Wrestler Quinton Jackson does a credible imitation of Mr. T - an approach that allows his apparently limited acting skills to be camouflaged. The Hangover's Bradley Cooper incorporates elements of Dirk Benedict's Faceman into his characterization, and there are times when The District's Sharlto Copley appears to be channeling Dwight Shultz. (According to the IMDb credits list, both Benedict and Shultz make cameos, but either those appearances didn't make the final cut or I blinked and missed them.) The sex appeal comes from Jessica Biel, who has shown in other roles that she can act. Here, she's strictly eye candy.

One minor disappointment is the underuse of the original Mike Post/Pete Carpenter A-Team theme - one of the best of the '80s - an upbeat march that could have been employed to excellent effect in the foreground, rather than being relegated to background snippets. (Consider how the "Mission: Impossible" music was used in that big-budget motion picture.) Instead, we get a generic and instantly forgettable score from Alan Silvestri. Still, such quibbles aside, this movie feels like one might expect from a major movie rendering of a "guilty pleasure" TV show, with the right amount of cheese to go along with the adrenaline and testosterone. Had the action sequences been better framed and presented, this might have been one of the summer's mindless high points. As it is, it's a passable diversion. The plan came together, although not as well as it might have.

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