Movie Review: The A-Team – Joe Carnahan’s Frantic Style and Incoherent Script Writing is Slightly Saved by Some of the Charismatic Performances

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to make a film out of a television show that was really a product of its time and place such as the A-Team really hasn’t been paying attention to past attempts made on dated films and television shows. Even Michael Mann’s modernization twist on his own creation Miami Vice turned out to be convoluted, unbalanced, and directionless. Joe Carnahan is at the helm of a two hour adaptation of the aforementioned five season show and as expected his frenzied style just pummels you with image after image and explosion after explosion, which semi-successfully distracts you from the lack of valid character development and coherent script writing. As mindless entertainment goes there are a few qualities Carnahan can offer in his version of The A-Team and those familiar with his work on Smokin’ Aces and Narc should expect some fast paced action sequences along with some interesting character personalities to add to the blitzkrieg contained in the images on screen. However, the plot is overly complex filled with beyond ridiculous moments that border on cartoonish, which would work if they weren’t trying so hard to take The A-Team so seriously (Case in point: “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus). For all of its potential to be entertaining in the best kind of tongue in cheek way, The A-Team is nothing more than a muddled attempt at being too clever with trying to update the dated shows characters leaving a feeling of unintentional dreariness. There are no opportunities to get to know the characters beyond their personalities, which even the show was able to do despite being so exaggerated.

To summarize Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team is practically impossible without giving away the needless plot twists that are unnecessarily overused throughout the progression of the story. It begins in Mexico where every single one of our four main characters, who don’t know each other yet, just happen to be in the same specific area of Mexico around the same time with their own personal prerogatives. The use of coincidence and pure absurdity to be jested as a sort of fate element lacks any intrigue or thought provocation and comes off a bit ridiculous in the end. Though that would have been a great angle, which would be to be so out there, so frantic and absurd that it was a sort of joke play on the television series. Unfortunately, while some of the performances are alright, too many of the actors play the over the top characters too straight right along with Carnahan’s attempt to update The A-Team for a modern attention deficit disordered audience. So after the opening credits and introduction to the varying personalities that represent the A-Team there is a jump to our present day Iraq, where the Alpha unit has had 80 successful missions later with no indication that they all involved attractive women. Now the stakes are higher as they are framed in a convoluted and confusing conspiracy involving faked deaths, an FBI and CIA rivalry, and an awkward over the top criticism towards mercenaries. It’s sort of like an A-Team episode that has been pumped with adrenaline, which inevitably alters the egos and personas of the familiar characters in a way that in the end affects the film’s ability to go beyond mindless, frantic entertainment.

Is it possible to modernize or transfer these familiar character personalities of the A-Team that George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Mr. T, and Dwight Schultz successfully created? Well Carnahan certainly tries in his script to give an intriguing twist to the egos on the screen with varying results. Liam Neeson, taking notable steps in his later career to balance independent roles and blockbuster stardom, tries here to just impersonate George Peppard’s Hannibal resulting in a performance that is entertaining though lacking any attempt as to digging into the character’s more subtle elements. Both Sharlto Copley and Bradley Cooper bring the more charming atmosphere to the cast of The A-Team, where Copley’s Murdock is certainly a controlled insanity while Cooper’s “Face” is appropriately charismatic and slightly vulnerable. Playing up the protégé and mentor relationship between Hannibal and “Face” was a good touch, though all the characters are really only breached on a surface level. When you’re dealing with characters that are already established and familiar it can be difficult to move past that perception and make it your own, which really only Sharlto Copley does successfully. Who doesn’t do anything correct is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson who proves that Channing Tatum isn’t the most bland actor to grace us with their presence on the screen. The forced dialect, the awkward line delivery, and the embarrassing attempt to make B.A. Baracus a dramatic character just never makes ground as to proving that this casting decision was a good one. All in all the cast, minus Jackson and a lackluster Jessica Biel as the love interest, are really the center pieces that get you through the frenzy that unfolds on the screen in a disordered fashion.

With the modern era of digital editing and having the ease of sifting through footage rather than physically cutting the film together it makes things a bit easier to distract the audience especially for filmmakers who specialize in action. Carnahan isn’t a storytelling director by any means if we consider his other work with Smokin’ Aces and Narc and certainly proves this is the case with all of the senseless twists and turns in The A-Team that will make your head spin more uncomfortably than Linda Blair’s. And the ins and outs of each twist are, for the most part, predictable but the film’s ability to defy coherent storytelling and sensible delivery is baffling. As the ending plan gets explained to the audience as distraction, division, and completion, its almost ironic how this is exactly what the film does to our senses. First, we are distracted from the plots ridiculousness and the lack of character depth by shoving as much into the screen image as possible creating a frenetic atmosphere. Next, they divide our feelings of the characters making them personas rather than relatable people slightly entertaining us rather than bringing us closer to their perspectives. And in the end the complete plan must have been to give an onslaught of chaotic action, frantic character moments, and a continuously twisting story that lacked forethought in order to just distract us from such mediocre filmmaking The A-Team ultimately ends up being.

Again it feels as though the criticism of The A-Team really is unnecessary considering that a remake of a dated 80s television show shouldn’t be held to such high standards. However, as action films go Carnahan’s direction seems out of control than anything else, defying such great action movies as Die Hard or Hardboiled that were able to be franticly entertaining while also having genuine characters that could be understood and felt. Carnahan is less interested in relating his situations to you than he is with using all the funds to create ridiculous scenarios that can be entertaining but ultimately don’t have a purpose in relation to how the plot unfolds. But considering that the plot in The A-Team is beyond all reasonable writing standards then there might be an intentional parallel to the story and the imagery that compliments it. Ultimately The A-Team isn’t as charming or as enjoyable as the television show it spawned from nor is the action necessarily unique, despite its absurdity. Luckily some of the select actors make the experience bearable in the end but The A-Team is just another piece of evidence that the summer of 2010 is one of the most uninspiring summers for films in recent memory.

Grade: C

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