The A-Team (2010) dir. Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copely, Quinton Jackson, Jessica Biel
By Alan Bacchus
There was much potential to create a viable new movie franchise here. The A-Team TV series, after all, had the wonderful hook: a group of soldiers of fortune, on the lam, who help out ordinary beleaguered citizens fight off their enemies – kinda like The Seven Samurai with cartoonish simplicity.
The producers started off right, casting the honest, trustworthy and commanding physical presence of Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith, the grey-haired cigar-smoking leader who ‘loves when a plan comes together’. Bradley Cooper, the fine up-and-coming actor, who possesses a Cary Grant quality of comic timing and handsome good looks is perfect as the suave ladies man Lt. Faceman. Sharlto Copely, who was simply awesome in District 9 is a spitting image of Dwight Schultz who played the raving lunatic helicopter pilot Murdoch. And UFC fighter Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson has enough of a physical presence to adequately fill the shoes of Mr. T.
The Joe Carnahan/Skip Woods/Brian Bloom script is heavily problematic however. In essence this film works as an ‘origin story’, showing us exactly how these four soldiers became the heroes of vigilante justice of the TV series, with Iraq subbing in for Vietnam (ok, no problem there). The first meeting of the foursome makes up the lengthy introduction, which has Hannibal racing to rescue Face and Murdoch from their respective incarcerations. Carnahan then spends the rest of the film orchestrating an overly complicated double-crossing military plot involving the search for some counterfeit money plates from Iraq.
We only get to know 'military' characters, CIA operatives and various other spy personnel, all of whom seem slimy and untrustworthy. Other than the four A-Teamers there’s no real 'people' to cheer for, and so it feels like a subpar version of Mission Impossible. Part of the A-Team branding are the ‘plans of action’ which Hannibal dreams up to exact revenge on their enemies. Unfortunately Joe Carnahan doesn’t seem to have the chops to direct with the panache required to make Hannibal’s plans sing with giddy cartoonish enjoyment. The potential is there, but the execution is lacking.
Carnahan’s action is over-the-top in a Stephen Somers way. Each action scene is so overly imagined with characters falling from the sky or swinging from ropes in virtually every scene. And the reliance on low rent CG and a sloppy editing style means it's a mess somewhere in between Van Helsing and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
The lack of a distinct bad guy is cause for more frustration. Patrick Wilson walks around with an air of supreme egotism, and we’re confused because he’s not overtly identified as the team’s main antagonist until much later. There’s also an underused Henry Czerny as a shift-eyed CIA Director, 80’s throwback Gerald McRaney (yes, Simon and Simon!) as a suspicious military general who assigns the Team to the case, and co-writer Brian Bloom as the B-team leader Pike who tries to subvert the A-Team’s movements at every turn. The result in an unnecessary melange of activity without the necessary focus and simplicity the concept demands.
It’s only by the end do we realize the A-Team movie is an origin story, and that we would need to wait for subsequent movies to really and truly have fun with the 80’s nostalgia. If these movies ever get made hopefully Carnahan won’t be at the helm.