I think I’ve only seen one episode of “The A-Team,” but thanks to the show’s comically strict adherence to formula and more than two decades of parody since its cancellation, I think I do get the general idea. Maybe if I was older, I’d be able to enjoy the show for some nostalgic purpose, but alas, I cannot, and am thus left with absolutely no reason to enjoy it. Conveniently, “absolutely no reason to enjoy it” is also a pretty good way of summing up my thoughts on Joe Carnahan’s big-budget remake of the show, which comes out this week. It seems difficult, but the creators of this origin story have failed in a way that even the worst recent superhero origin stories basically succeed: they forgot to actually create characters. Forget that this is an idiotic, aesthetically inept production that is chock full of poor dialogue, inept and possibly dangerous morals and no real plot to speak of, those are simply the problems of most Hollywood action movies, The A-Team goes a step further by actually ignoring character development and anything even resembling a story arc for any of its characters. The film covers a nearly nine-year span, and during that time, there is not a single instance of development or permanent change in any of its major characters. The actors at least kind of try, but there is no overcoming a script which is nothing except nearly two hours of setup punctuated by the occasional flash of rather dull action.
Compounding the lack of character development is the fact that The A-Team somehow manages to squeeze three separate origin stories into a franchise that didn’t need one. They could have simply played the show’s opening credits and stuck to the original formula of a team of betrayed soldiers working as mercenaries to help people with their problems. Instead, the film shows us how they met, how they were first betrayed, how they escaped and got revenge, how they were betrayed again and how they escaped again. The far-too-long opening sequence takes place in Mexico, where Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) and Lt. Templeton “Face” Peck (Bradley Cooper) are on a dangerous mission to take down a corrupt drug lord or something (they never really explain). During the rescue, Hannibal finds a getaway driver in Sgt. B.A. Baracus (UFC star Quentin “Rampage” Jackson), a recently discharged army ranger who is willing to help out his brothers in arms. For reasons that are never really explained, Hannibal decides to get a pilot from an army mental hospital in Mexico (why it’s there, I really don’t know), and he finds Captain Murdock (Sharlto Copley), who leads the Mexican criminals to America, where it’s apparently totally OK to blow helicopters carrying foreign nationals out of the sky. The action then shifts to Baghdad a few years later, where the four of them are now a unit during the American withdrawal. While the CIA, a Blackwater style mercenary group and military higher ups, including Face’s former lover, Capt. Carissa Sosa (Jessica Biel), debate over who should be allowed to retrieve stolen plates that could be used to counterfeit billions, Hannibal’s team (illegally) goes into Baghdad and takes the plates. When they get back, the mercenaries frame them for murder and steal the plates, leaving the A-Team to rot in prison. Of course, they quickly escape, and the second half of the film is spent chasing down the mercenaries and the CIA agent (Patrick Wilson) who got them into trouble. Unfortunately, there is such a disconnect between each of the film’s three parts that none of them ever has the chance to feel like an actual story.
Poor writing aside, I do have to give credit to Sharlto Copley for his work here. I wasn’t a fan of his performance in District 9, but he brings a refreshing manic energy to an otherwise by-the-numbers picture. Neeson, Cooper and Wilson all give their standard acceptable-but-unmemorable performances in roles that really didn’t deserve anything more. Anyone who has paid attention to Quentin Jackon’s Mixed Martial Arts career will tell you that he is a charismatic guy who can dish out some of the best trash talk in sports, and he could have been pretty good if he had been allowed to do that in The A-Team, but instead he only tries to imitate Mr. T’s well known work in the role and it comes off as kind of silly. Baracus is by far the worst-written character in the movie though, so I’m willing to give Jackson a pass until he takes a more interesting role. Frankly, as they were playing the same characters every day without any major change in behavior or attitude, I expect most of the actors just got bored.
Even if they weren’t great, you really can’t blame the actors for this one though. Most of the blame should fall on writer/director Joe Carnahan. His career began with high expectations from some after the mediocre but somewhat critically acclaimed Narc, but he then took a long layoff before making his second film, 2008’s Smoking Aces, which was awful, but at least had potential to be fun. His regression as a filmmaker continues here, with an awful film that really didn’t have any potential in the first place. Late in the movie, Hannibal says “overkill is underrated,” which basically sums up Carnahan’s approach to the film. Unlike most modern action scenes, which are only vaguely incomprehensible due to poor shot selection and bad editing, Carnahan seemingly makes an effort to have his action completely incomprehensible. During most of the fight scenes and extended chases, there is no way of actually guessing who is on screen and what’s happening. It’s all flashing lights and loud noise made even more annoying due to the lack of any possible connection between the audience and the characters. The film also has a completely reprehensible moral lesson at its center. After breaking out of prison, Baracus suddenly decides to stop hurting people. He still wants to help his friends, but he tries to do so without killing hundreds of random henchmen and bystanders. Normally, this would be a good thing, but Hannibal gives him a speech that basically comes down to “killing people is totally OK if you think you’re doing it for the right reason,” and so, by the end of the film, Baracus is back to his old fool-pitying ways. I’ve never seen the point of remaking a TV series best remembered for being comically bad, but if it had to happen, I do wish they’d kept the “comically” part. Unfortunately, all Carnahan and the other writers have left us with is one of the most generic and uninteresting of all generic and uninteresting summer action movies.
The A-Team is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking.
It opens everywhere Friday June 11th.
Directed by Joe Carnahan; written by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip Woods; director of photography, Mauro Fiore; art director, Michael Diner; original music by Alan Silvestri; produced by Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Stephen J. Cannell, Jules Daly, Spike Seldin, Iain Smith and Alex Young; distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. Running time: 1 Hour 50 Minutes.
With: Liam Neeson (Hannibal), Bradley Cooper (Face), Quentin Jackson (B.A. Baracus), Sharlto Copley (Murdock), Jessica Biel (Charisa Sosa), Patrick Wilson (Lynch) and Brian Bloom (Pike).