Movie Review: The A-Team
By Matthew Huntley
June 17, 2010
The A-Team is another one of those dumb, loud, testosterone-driven action pictures that thinks it can get by on special effects and charm. It also throws nostalgia into the mix, but for viewers who’ve never seen the television series on which it’s based, this is a moot point. Don’t get me wrong - there is a place for movies like this in the entertainment landscape, but in a time when Hollywood offers us more ambitious action movies like Avatar and Iron Man 2, The A-Team feels standard and indistinct by comparison. It’s jolly and upbeat to be sure, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing to write home about.
I was never an avid viewer of The A-Team TV show (I’ve hardly seen it), which ran for four seasons back in the ‘80s and garnered high ratings. The movie draws its attitude from the show, along with some famous one-liners (“I’m gonna kill you fool!”) and in-jokes. But when you take away the series, is there anything special about the movie? It’s an average effects extravaganza - big, noisy and pumped head to toe with sensational action sequences. In fact, all the action from the TV series probably couldn’t hold a candle to what happens in the movie. The filmmakers are under the age-old impression that bigger is better. Sometimes it is, but only when there’s something fresh to go along with the big.
The effects in the movie are practically non-stop and the cuts are so rapid and disorienting that we lose track of the details happening in each shot. We’re forced to sit back and experience the movie in clumps and just accept the gist of what happens instead of the specifics. The sound mixing is also muddy and I had a hard time deciphering some of the dialogue. It may have been the theater I saw it in, but I’d be curious to know if others experience the same problems. All of this makes The A-Team sound like a mess, and on many levels it is, but at least it’s a high-spirited mess, and that’s what saves it from being a disaster.
In the movie, the A-Team, short for Alpha Team, consists of four highly specialized army rangers. They’re daring, fearless and a tad bit crazy (some more than others). Heading the unit is John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson), who’s always optimistic and confident about his mission plans. He’s also never short a cigar. Hannibal oversees the charming womanizer, Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper); the gruff, angry B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson); and the wild and loony Murdock (Sharlto Copley). I’m sure these names will mean more to fans of the TV show and the movie probably takes their original characteristics to an extreme, but that’s to be expected.
At the beginning of the movie, all four men meet and greet one another as they do battle in the Mexican desert and form a quick bond because they have the same tattoo on their arms. Eight years later, they’re serving in Iraq and considered the best military elite unit, with eighty successful missions under their belts. Their latest orders come from a suspicious CIA agent named Lynch (Patrick Wilson), who asks Hannibal to retrieve U.S. currency plates stolen by Iraqi insurgents, along with $1 billion in counterfeit money. But when a revered U.S. General (Gerald McRaney) is mysteriously killed in the process, the foursome is framed and spends the rest of the movie trying to clear their names.
The token hot chick in the movie (there’s always one) is Charisa Sosa, a Department of Defense agent played by Jessica Biel. Naturally, she and Faceman have a romantic history together and if you think the movie won’t end with them reigniting their flame, think again.
Everything about The A-Team seems to follow a template laid out by other movies in the same genre, which is where it lost me. After an energetic opening sequence, complete with a helicopter chase, it descends into conventional action movie territory with clearly defined good guys and bad guys and over-the-top, albeit routine, explosions and fist fights. And of course, everything goes according to plan.
The movie makes the mistake of parallel editing Hannibal’s description of how a mission will go down with scenes of his team executing it word for word. I know this is supposed to illustrate the team’s talents for precision and accuracy, but it’s not exciting to watch. Narrative-wise, it’s a letdown because we never suspect there’s a chance something could go wrong or may happen differently than how we expect. For an action movie, it’s by the book.
I want to point out the movie does have its attitude in the right place. Unlike some movies of this nature, which take themselves too seriously and offend us with their brutality and mean spirit, The A-Team handles itself with an upbeat disposition. Like the characters, it always has a smirk on its face. Director Joe Carnahan creates a fun atmosphere for his cast, who all seem like they're having a swell time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t extend to the viewers, who just sort of sit back idly as the movie goes through the usual motions. Although there are some clever moments to speak of (the team directs a free-falling tank in the sky by shooting from its main gun), they’re too few and far between.
As goofy summer fun, The A-Team is adequate and serviceable (if it’s action you want, it’s action you get), but I wish it had distinguished itself more by having the ambition and nerve to be something different. Instead, it resorts to action movie conventions while simultaneously relying on the TV series. But the best thing any adaptation can do is treat itself as though it doesn’t have a source to reference or fall back on. If The A-Team kept that in mind, it might have found the inspiration to exist independently of its genre and become something more than ordinary.