8 August 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team


The A-Team
2010, 117mins, 12
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer (s): Joe Carnahan, Skip Woods, Brian Bloom
Cast includes: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom
UK Release Date: 28th July 2010

When it comes to TV shows from the eighties, few have enjoyed the same level of pop culture celebration as “The A-Team”. The “A-Team” ran for four years and even in death has managed to create a ferocious merchandising storm, whilst catchphrases from the show have long been engraved into the geek vernacular. The show offered a cheesy combination of action and adventure, striking a chord with the prepubescent boys of that era. Joe Carnahan’s 2010 reimagining of “The A-Team” will be hoping that the same people (now into their thirties) will revel in seeing their childhood heroes back in action, hauling their own sons and daughters along for the ride. This new incarnation is likely to satisfy the same basic addictions as the original TV series, but it’s important to point out that in the wake of more sophisticated actioners like “Kick-Ass” and “Inception”, “The A-Team” feels simplistic and a little primitive. It’s a fun movie, but not one likely to linger long in the memory.

“The A-Team” acts as a prequel to the TV series. The team itself consists of four members, Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) is the eldest but also the craftiest, having a tendency to concoct unorthodox but ingenious strategies. Face (Bradley Cooper) is the charmer of the group, whilst the insane Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is a brave and exceedingly accomplished pilot. B.A (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) is a brawny fighting machine, and one who likes to punish a “fool” whenever the opportunity arises. During their tenure in Iraq, the team are framed for murder and the theft of counterfeit plates, and are thus wrongly detained and stripped of military rank. An elusive CIA operative called Lynch (Patrick Wilson) helps the team escape from imprisonment, under the condition they help retrieve the missing plates and deal with the real criminal Pike (Brian Bloom). However all four men are still wanted felons and thus have to avoid capture by lieutenant Sosa (Jessica Biel), who also happens to have a romantic history with Face.

The screenplay by Carnahan, Bloom and Skip Woods is almost lean to the point of nothingness, sketching out an insanely thin narrative in order to make way for oodles of gunfire and some delightfully overblown performances. The story moves forward in a very predictable fashion, and whilst small individual details might surprise viewers, the overall outcome and general direction of the project is obvious and formulaic. “The A-Team” wasn’t built to tell an epic or intricate story; instead it aims for a more gung-ho filmmaking approach, wrapping its simple storytelling in a mire of hefty action and charming acting. The dialogue is pretty weak and often virtually inaudible, but when Carnahan wants the viewer to hear the one liners or exposition he lingers only long enough to construe the point. “The A-Team” is a visual and physical cinematic experience, shying away from the elaborate or detail heavy mechanisms that can bog down a good action piece.

All four of the key actors give impressive performances. Liam Neeson is slightly more restrained than expected but still appears to be having a blast as Hannibal, bringing both a cheeky grin and a sense of wisdom to his interpretation. There’s still plenty of cigar chomping heroism, but Neeson doesn’t play the character quite as cartoonish as I was expecting. The same can’t be said for Sharlto Copley and Bradley Cooper; both rip into their respective roles with a forceful sense of fun and manic charisma, Copley in particular providing a great deal of rewarding comic relief. Taking on the legendary B.A, Jackson isn’t maybe as sharp as his co-stars, but he fills the immortal Mr. T’s shoes adequately. The group also create a decent dynamic and sense of camaraderie, allowing audiences to engage and sympathise with them on a grander level. Patrick Wilson brings a nice snake like feeling of unease to his performance, whilst Brian Bloom plays the asshole bad guy rather efficiently. Jessica Biel (an erratic actress at best) struggles even with the one dimensional Sosa, although some of her scenes with Bradley Cooper do insert a little heat and sex appeal into proceedings.

Carnahan favours fast edits and rapid cuts, something that works against the action scenes more than it improves them. However the action set-pieces reach a spectacularly ridiculous pitch and demonstrate some real visual invention on the filmmaker’s parts, particularly one involving some aircraft and a tank. The film isn’t short on bombast or spectacle, thrusting audiences headfirst into the carnage and keeping them entertained even as the explosions occur at a phenomenally speedy clip. It’s interesting to note that the big finale is less impressive than some of the earlier and more aggressively crazed stuff, but there’s enough blockbusting skill on show for “The A-Team” to at least pass muster as a worthy action flick.

At 117 minutes the film should have been shorter, with plotting this flimsy a more genre friendly 90-100 minute runtime would have been of modest benefit. A subplot in which B.A loses touch with how to attack and if necessary dispatch his enemies feels tacked on and unwelcome, had Carnahan excised that the film might clock in at a more agreeable duration. The visual effects are robust and the cinematography professionally handled, whilst the musical score makes several adrenaline rushing references to the TV show’s iconic theme tune. “The A-Team” is a decent summer picture and one that fans of the source are likely to love, but for those seeking something intellectually taxing or artistically ambitious it’s probably safe to say this won’t be your fix. It’s a testosterone filled action romp with some neat performances, and that’s really all anybody could have hoped for coming from a brand this goofy.

A review by Daniel Kelly 2010


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