The A-Team (2010)

Here’s a novel approach to making a film, instead of adapting an excellent source into a mediocre movie, how about adapting a mediocre source into a mediocre movie. This isn’t to knock the original The A-Team show, it’s just nowhere near one of the greats. It’s entertaining, fun and action-packed, but hardly an excellent show. In fact, it fits the mentality of the summer blockbuster movie perfectly and it’s surprising it took them this long to make it.

In order to be timely, the ragtag group known as The A-Team is an Iraq special ops unit until they get double crossed and must find a way to clear their names. Col. John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) leads the group as a cigar chomping, charismatic ruffian. Opposite him is Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper), the suave, ladies’ man of the group. The muscle and attitude is Cpl. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and the crazy is Murdock (Sharlto Copley).

It’s this group of unlikely heroes that made the original show so fun to watch and the dynamic between these characters carries a lot of the film. Just hanging around these guys, listening in on their banter and watching the messes they land themselves into, is enjoyable. It’s clear these characters work best as a group, playing off each other but also helping bring out certain elements in each other. B.A. wouldn’t be near as much fun if he didn’t have Murdock pissing him off every other minute.

It’s also nice that this film is first and foremost about the fun. It finds a way to take that ‘80s cheesiness of over the top action and make it work in a modern setting. The characters, situations and actions are intentionally exaggerated. And, to be honest, a serious A-Team movie would be plain silly.  With so many action films trying to be serious, gritty and realistic it’s a breath of fresh air to see more and more action movies that aren’t afraid to be silly and just go for it.

However, where the film doesn’t work well is in the plotting. Narrative storytelling was never the strong point of the original show as the excuses for action were often paper thin. However, in the film, the narrative is overcomplicated, trying to give the audience way too many reasons for the action. There are a lot of other characters and players outside The A-Team that get a lot of screen time that they take away from the core fun of the group dynamic.

However, fantastic performances make a lot of the denser plotting function, particularly of Patrick Wilson, a criminally underrated actor, who plays a CIA agent only known as Lynch who tries to help The A-Team clear their name. Also noteworthy is Liam Neeson, who is absolutely inspired in the role of Hannibal. Bradley Cooper is a divinely devilish and Sharlto Copley brings a great nervous energy to his craziness. What’s not so hot is Quinton Jackson. It might have less to do with his performance and more to do with the poor character choices the screenwriters give him to pull off. He can’t handle the weight of the material, making his character and performance ultimately unconvincing.

The abundant CGI effects are also unconvincing. With the rise in action films returning to real life special effects, such as The Dark Knight, The Bourne Identity and Taken, it’s becoming easier and easier to spot the CGI explosions. It simply can’t compare to the real thing. It might be bigger, badder and flashier, but it’s also obviously fake and sells short a lot of otherwise fantastically joyous and ridiculous over-the-top action set-pieces.

But perhaps that isn’t completely true as these set-pieces also try that shaky camera technique that made Greengrass so hot. The problem is that it only works in films that are trying to be realistic (and even then it doesn’t always work). The result is a handful of sequences that are too erratic and congested to simply enjoy. When the film leans back on more traditional camera techniques, the audience is able take the action sequences for the spectacle instead of being put off by the stylistic flare at work.

The film does find a fantastic way to present some of these action scenes by making them flash-forwards. As someone explains the plan of what they will do, the film cuts to that specific moment of the plan as it is being executed. It’s a great interplay between exposition and action, something brilliantly pulled off in Speed Racer. In the same way, this film uses it to catch the audience up to speed on what is happening as the scene plays out, which is a fascinating approach to what could otherwise be a typical action sequence.

Unfortunately, as great as these planning scenes are, they aren’t indicative of the film as a whole. Much to Hannibal’s chagrin, this is one plan that didn’t come altogether. A needlessly complex plot, some poor scripting and fake action scenes take away from a lot of the fun of The A-Team. However, when the film works it’s a blast. If you’re looking for an entertaining summer ride, it will be hard to beat The A-Team in wit, thrills and fun, even if the overall experience is on the bumpy side.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing