Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods, based on the television series The A-Team created by Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo
Maybe I’m simply of the wrong generation, but does anyone actually like The A-Team? The old TV series, I mean. I’ve barely seen the show outside of a few clips I looked up before writing this review, so again…I might just be missing something. But like The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island–shows I did watch, and love, when I was younger–The A-Team has seemingly become one of those pop culture landmarks fondly remembered by many but genuinely enjoyed by few. And unfortunately, unlike when The Brady Bunch came to the big screen and amusingly satirized everything that people held dear about the show, The A-Team takes a far more generic, predictable path.
The A-Team itself has one of the dumber origin stories in recent memory: Col. John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) escapes imprisonment by some Mexican goons. On his way to save Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper), Hannibal randomly comes across B.A. Baracus (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson), who’s also an Army Ranger, albeit a disgraced one. Hannibal hitches a ride with B.A., they rescue Faceman from certain death, and the three of them drive to a military hospital where Hannibal knows to break out the crazed Murdock (Sharlto Copley) so that he can pilot them to safety. You don’t get more lazy and happenstance than that.
“8 years and 80 successful missions later,” so says a title card, the A-Team is a well-oiled machine, even if B.A. has to be tricked or coerced to board any air vehicle because of Murdock’s unorthodox flying technique. Says Captain Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel), “I would never tell them this, but they’re the best team we’ve got.” CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) informs Hannibal that Iraqi insurgents have stolen U.S. treasury plates and are cranking out counterfeit money with them. The A-Team sets off on a secret mission to get both the plates and the money back, and one thunderingly noisy set piece later, they’ve succeeded. However, the plates, the money, and Hannibal’s commanding officer General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) are blown up by nefarious forces. There’s no proof the A-Team was working on the military’s behalf, and they’re discharged and sent to prison. Oh no!
Six months pass and Lynch visits Hannibal in prison, where the two strike up a deal. If Hannibal and his boys can retrieve the plates, they’ll be cleared of all charges. Lynch helps Hannibal break out, and then Hannibal goes about collecting the other members. From there, they embark on a convoluted, nonsensical adventure during which shit is blowed up real good, crazy plot twists occur, and many one-liners are said. Alas, not once does B.A. say, “I pity the fool.” Which sucks, because I’m pretty sure if I had to give this review a title, I’d call it “Pity the Fool Who Has to Watch This Movie.”
I’m not against silly action movies. They can be quite fun, and indeed, there are kernels of fun planted deep within The A-Team. The first big sequence, where the team comes together (Ooh! Another potential review title: “I Hate It When a Plan Doesn’t Come Together”), though ridiculous, is pretty entertaining. There are freeze frames and titles to introduce each member of the team, and they each get to display their particular talents: Hannibal’s a cigar-chomping hard-ass; B.A. drives all nice-like; Faceman is the charming douchebag (I am unaware that Bradley Cooper is capable of playing any other role); and Murdock is batshit fucking insane and would never ever be allowed to be a part of any elite operations team. Ever.
I’ll say this for the cast. With a lesser team, this movie would’ve been a lot harder to take. Though he ultimately doesn’t have much to do, mixed martial artist Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson is fairly likable in the TV show’s most iconic role, the one originally played by Mr. T. I was not a fan of Sharlto Copley’s breakthrough role in last year’s inexplicably heralded District 9, but he seems in his element here, and you can tell he’s having fun toggling between different accents and personalities. Cooper, as I said, is a charismatic asshat, even if, as in The Hangover, the sleazebag in him overwhelms the affable dude inside. The real question mark is Liam Neeson. Neeson barrels his way through a questionable American accent, kicking ass and taking names, as he did in last year’s regrettable actioner Taken. The brilliant actor seems to be taking a sudden, mid-career shift to the bigger, infinitely dumber movies unworthy of his caliber. Granted, he’s had parts in genre movies for years, but there’s a big difference between things like Darkman and Batman Begins, and things like this and Taken. But, I mean, he admirably smokes stogies and carries some big guns. More power to him, I guess.
There’s not a single moment of The A-Team that is particularly memorable, at least not for the right reasons. Sure, Patrick Wilson manages to sneak in some bizarre tics in an otherwise forgettable role (there was a line, I forget what it was, which, apropos of nothing, he sings). Yeah, there’s the unbelievable scene where the team actually flies a tank, breaking all laws of physics. It’s so idiotic it’s almost genius; then director Joe Carnahan zooms in on the tank’s “How’s my driving?” sticker, the joke surrendering to gravitational pull and crashing into the ground. I skipped Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces, which looked similarly frenetic and moronic, so I’m just going to assume this is his typical style. I do know some fans of Smokin’ Aces, and my only guess is that there Carnahan has a lighter touch, as opposed to the relentless onslaught of explosions and exposition he unleashes here. It’s not pretty. I hate it when a plan doesn’t come together!
P.S. I pity the fool.