Yes, The A-Team is based on a deeply silly and repetitive TV show, and it is the rare summer blockbuster that refuses to take itself too seriously. But still, it's a major feature film that cost more money than you or I will ever see, and there are still standards for such things. And no matter how much fun The A-Team can be at times, no matter how blinded you are by Bradley Cooper's shiny teeth or Sharlto Copley's terrible accent, it is not a good movie. Not even close. Instead it's a flashy series of meaningless gags and set pieces, some of which work and some of which don't, none of which add up to a movie that anyone seemed to care about.
It's easy to get away with substituting explosions and jaunty pacing for an actual story, especially when you're based on a TV show that inspires great nostalgia, and especially when you're part of a summer that's one of the worst ever for acceptable escapism. But don't be fooled by The A-Team's manic energy and willingness to blow up nearly everything-- it's nothing more than a bunch of money thrown onto the screen, sometimes enlivened by inspired performances but more often content to just sit there, loud and self-satisfied, waiting for you to catch the in-jokes and go with the flow. You can do that, of course, and at times I found myself laughing along with the movie and reveling in some truly inspired stunts. But that doesn't make it a movie; that makes it a highlight reel.
The movie serves as kind of a prequel to the story we knew in the series, starting with a ridiculous getaway in Mexico that united our four central characters and winding up in a fictional Iraq where the United States Army is pulling out at last. The A-Team, which "specializes in the ridiculous," consists of father figure smartypants Hannibal (Liam Neeson), wiseass pretty boy Face (Bradley Cooper), certified nutjob helicopter pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley), and human blank slate B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson), whose main role in the film is to be afraid of flying. The boys cook up a plan to retrieve a briefcase full of plates that would allow the remaining terrorists to essentially establish their own U.S. mint, but their reward for a successful mission is to be framed for a murder they didn't commit and locked up in jail. They escape, go on the run, try to prove that it was the smarmy Blackwater-- er, I mean Black Forest-- rep Pike (Brian Bloom) who did it, and stay a few steps ahead of the military as represented by Sosa (Jessica Biel), whose role is to look pretty and overwhelmed.
For the most part The A-Team merely asks that we be amused as Hannibal and company execute their latest scheme, some of which work well-- the "flying a tank" bit you've seen in the trailers especially, plus one stunt that involves crashing through windows a la Batman in Hong Kong in The Dark Knight. The script-- cooked up by nearly a dozen writers and credited to Carnahan, Bloom and Skip Woods-- has so little interest in logic or character motivation that it's virtually impossible to tell what the bad guys want, where they are, or who they're trying to kill. The shining exception is Patrick Wilson's mysterious CIA agent Lynch, an unpredictable and fascinating baddie who seems to relish his slick evilness as much as we do. All the other lead performers have their moments-- except for Jackson, who couples bad acting with a complete inability to articulate his lines-- but Wilson seems to understand better than any other that having fun in a silly movie requires a little acting too.
The goofy performances and impressive stunts might have been enough to hold it all together were Carnahan remotely capable of choreographing, filming and editing the action set pieces that are the entire purpose of the movie. Even with Hannibal explaining, in voiceover, the exact circumstances of every plot, it's impossible to tell which member of the A-Team is where during a mission and who they're shooting at. Even when pared down to hand-to-hand combat the film is muddled and incoherent, challenging not just the laws of gravity but how fast our eyes can follow rapid-fire edits. Perhaps in an attempt to get away from the stagy style of the TV show, Carnahan opts for jumpy, Greengrass-inspired camera work in nearly every scene, but he's not at all up to the challenge; even when the sloppy screenplay stumbles upon a good gag or action bit, Carnahan's direction fumbles it. The intended sense of fun manages to slip through from time to time, but it's nothing compared to what a capable director could have brought us.
The A-Team is good enough and definitely entertaining enough to settle for in these hot summer months, if only to watch Patrick Wilson leer and Liam Neeson chomp a cigar. But be honest with yourself as you strap in for the ride-- you know we deserve better.
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