If you consider yourself to be an "intellectual" and are planning on catching this weekend's release of The A-Team, then you might want to gauge just how easily you're able to check your thought processes at the box-office before sliding into your seat to catch this unabashedly goofy, action-packed and rather nonsensical tribute to the 1980's television series upon which it is based.
If you can simply chill the intellect and abandon all hope of anything resembling cohesion, then you may find yourself, somewhat guiltily, enjoying this spirited, hyperactive and frequently funny (at least until the film's final third) flick. There is nothing brilliant about The A-Team. Really, though, is that a surprise?
There was nothing brilliant about the television series, was there? After all, a notable actor like George Peppard was upstaged by a mohawk-laden guy named Mr. T who, let's be honest, couldn't act worth an iota.
He was funny, though. He seemed sincere.
Who are we kidding? We loved Mr. T.
We already love his Hollywood counterpart in this big screen adaptation, UFC fighting champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who also can't act but sure can act like Mr. T. and manages to do so with enough abandonment that it's practically impossible to not get swept up in his adventures as B.A. Baracus with Hannibal (Peppard in the series, Liam Neeson here), Murdock (Dwight Schultz in the series, District 9's Sharlto Copley here) and Face (Dirk Benedict in the series, Bradley Cooper here).
In a slight twist on the original's "falsely accused fighting for justice" storyline, our guys here are an Iraqi special ops force set up for a crime they didn't commit. The members of this A-team spend their time trying to clear their name and find the guilty party before it's too late.
Of course, story doesn't really matter here. At all.
What matters in The A-Team, co-written and directed by Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces), is just how many explosions Carnahan can fit inside the film's 121-minute run time. It turns out to be a lot.
Carnahan takes a sort of balls to the walls approach to shooting The A-Team, not unlike virtually every film he's ever made, infusing the film with an almost relentless abandon of twisted testosterone and over-the-top action lunacy. The A-Team doesn't worry about creating action sequences that make sense or follow any law of physics, instead deferring to a sort of "Hey, this would look really cool. Let's do it." approach. For most of the early going, this approach works nicely alongside a cast that seems to get what's going on here.
This ain't brilliant cinema folks. This is mindless, silly and over-the-top entertainment without an ounce of pretentiousness about it. At the end of The A-Team, the question isn't "Have you learned anything?" or "What did you feel?" It's, quite simply, "Did you have a good time?"
For much of the film, the answer will be a resounding "Yes!"
Before this starts sounding like an A-Team love fest, however, it's important to note that Carnahan's balls to the walls approach very nearly derails the film. Devoid of anything resembling actual pacing, The A-Team frequently feels like not much more than a two-hour television sitcom, admittedly a PG-13 rated one. While much of the humor in The A-Team works, the film's final third practically comes to a screeching halt as Carnahan and co-writers Skip Woods and Brian Bloom finally begin to pay the price for an irrelevant story, paper thin characters and an emphasis on style over substance. There's nothing particularly wrong about a sitcom approach, but a two-hour sitcom is a bit much and by film's end The A-Team is more exasperating than exciting.
The film largely works, though, because its ensemble cast seems to understand that this film is almost entirely created as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the original series with intentionally over-the-top action, characters and humor.
Liam Neeson, who seems to either be caught in a wave of post-grief "make me laugh" films, nicely mirrors Peppard's television perf as team leader Hannibal, while Bradley Cooper takes Dirk Benedict's turn as Face and turns it up a notch with his Face being a touch less pretty but infinitely more smooth. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson surely can't act but, then again, neither could Mr. T. Jackson can act like Mr. T, an ability he utilizes nicely here and an indication that we could very well be finding him in similar roles down the road. Proving that his praised turn in last year's District 9 was no fluke, Sharlto Copley serves up what is arguably the flick's top performance as the highly skilled yet equally psychotic Murdock.
Jessica Biel has proven as of late that she actually can act, but all that's required here is for Biel to be eye candy. Oh yes, Biel can be eye candy. Patrick Wilson also has a nice turn as the film's baddie, turning in a rather fun and vibrant performance.
Production credits, especially those of the explosive kind are generally solid, however, it's hard not to question why Carnahan didn't make greater use of Mike Post's stellar original score and instead turned to Alan Silvestri's limp and unimaginative music. Mauro Fiore's camera work is solid, though action sequences miss the mark with weak staging and framing that too often diffuses action resulting in minimal impact.
Flawed yet surprisingly fun, The A-Team is most assuredly not a film for everyone but, most assuredly, it is a film for those with fond memories of the original series and/or those fans of anyone in this cast who want to see these folks having a great time and blowing up stuff along the way.
The A-Team may not be the kind of cinema that will stay with you for the rest of your life, but it will show you a good time today. While the film's weak staging and deference to style over substance dilute its impact, The A-Team is likely this summer's first true guilty pleasure.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic