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Film Review: The A-Team

The A-Team (2010; Directed by Joe Carnahan)

With The A-Team, Hollywood action movies may have reached their own version of peak oil: the tipping point between generic repetition and outright parody. It’s nearly impossible to tell if the movie is sending up the genre conventions or just recycling them so excessively that it comes off as a piss-take of this sort of material. I ultimately find myself tilting in favour of the former, but maybe I’m just being generous to director Joe Carnahan and his production team.

This is a big, loud, goofy, functionally-insane piece of popcorn cinema, and not at all unentertaining for all that. It has a plot, I suppose; something about US currency minting plates misplaced in Iraq and coveted by various factions of heavily-armed Americans. Like most movies of this type, any fragments of story are mostly excuses for oversized action sequences, clipped banter infused with stilted wit, slimy villains, a comely babe or two, and constant expressions of homosocial masculinity. The A-Team mostly obliges us on all of these counts.

Guys, this portable smoke machine was a GREAT investment!

There’s furious action unfolding before the drawn-out credits are even finished, and you’ve certainly never seen anything as imaginatively ludicrous as the later sequence in which our heroes try to direct a freefalling tank by firing its turret gun in mid air (there’s a Mythbusters episode waiting to test this, you know it). Some of the interactions between the team members crackle with some low-level cleverness (“When did the plane explode?” “Recently!”), but there’s just as much overworked wackiness at play, too. As for baddies, Patrick Wilson camps against type as a CIA spook and Brian Bloom (also a co-writer of the “script”) is a unsubtly black-clad Blackwater/Xe-type defense contractor. The comely babe quotient is filled by Jessica Biel, who isn’t particularly comely here and is also pretty consistently inept as an army intelligence lieutenant attempting to control the chaos.

That leaves us with the homosocial titular team, chumming it up and solving mysteries in something other than their famous van, which makes a brief appearance early in the film that serves to neatly explain why it makes no appearances later in the film. Liam Neeson, who seems game for pretty much anything at this point in his career, chomps on cigars and acts all daddy-figure as Hannibal Smith. Bradley Cooper continues to play nothing but arrogant, womanizing cads, and it can’t be said that he plays them poorly, exactly. But there is perhaps no stock character type as unfortunately valorized in Hollywood as the arrogant, womanizing cad. MMA star Quinton Jackson is less wooden than should have been reasonably expected, but his B.A. Baracus only really gets going when Jackson is directly impersonating Mr. T. He has some decent interactions with Sharlto Copley’s fried-circuits oddball Captain Murdock, but nothing resembling chemistry ever quite develops. Copley is certainly the most appealing of the foursome, but his role as a scene-stealing comedic wacko is so telegraphed, I almost feel guilty for enjoying his best moments.

Carnahan and his collaborators keep things moving at a decent clip, and the movie is never boring even if it lacks much in the way of visual polish or invention. Still, you can tell the film means business from the military font of its opening titles forward; this is not going to be hip and sophisticated, this is going to be an over-the-top and ambitiously silly Hollywood cornball spectacle. On that level, it’s hard to fault The A-Team, even if it could do a bit more with the cards it was dealt.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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