ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "THE A-TEAM" BRINGS ITS A-GAME

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By Brian Lafferty

June 11, 2010 (San Diego) -- I strongly believe in approaching every movie I review with as neutral an attitude as possible, with no preconceived notions as to whether or not I will like it. The A-Team made it simultaneously difficult and easy. It was difficult in the sense that I’m a huge fan of the original series and easy in that the show was not a work of art. The episodes followed a strict formula and contained mindless action, yet it worked because it was entertaining, energetic, and fun. This movie works because it follows in that same spirit that made the show fun to watch.

 



Liam Neeson plays the cigar-chomping Hannibal Smith. Quinton Jackson plays B.A. Baracus, the team’s muscular mechanic who can handily outfight a horde of men but suffers from a paralyzing fear of flying. Bradley Cooper, a hoot in The Hangover, plays Templeton “Face” Peck, who can charm his way out of any situation. Sharlto Copley, fresh from his role in District 9, rounds out the team as “Howling Mad” Murdock, a pilot who is literally crazy but knows how to fly.

These actors have big shoes to fill and they succeed by making the characters their own. They blend into their roles so deeply that any comparisons to the actors in the TV show never entered my mind.

As I watched The A-Team, something about this movie lingered in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I was driving home from the screening that it hit me. Two months ago I saw The Losers, which showed flashes of inventiveness but had a poor story (or, to be more accurate, a lack of a story). The A-Team is rife with flashy, inventive action sequences, yet has a good story to put them to use.

I say “good” because the story is barely worth writing home about. In fact, it’s not very original. The team is hired by a C.I.A. agent to steal counterfeit plates from Baghdad. After being framed, tried, and found guilty of the murder of a U.S. General (Gerald McRaney of Simon & Simon fame) following the mission, they escape and plan to not only clear their names but get revenge. Unlike The Losers, we get a sense of who the bad guys are and why they do what they do. This makes the revenge aspect more believable and enables us to root for the team.

The action sequences in The A-Team are the film’s biggest asset because the filmmakers don’t settle for the basics. There are no car chases but at the beginning we’re treated to an exciting helicopter pursuit. Later on, the characters engage in a shoot out that feels reminiscent of the one in Michael Mann’s Heat but is still exciting. In addition, the team finds creative ways to escape from their respective prisons.

The only gripe I have with this picture is the editing of some of these sequences. At times the action is a little too incomprehensible because many of the shots are edited too quickly. I have never been a fan of the half-second editing style. I wish filmmakers would realize that making such cuts are not only a distraction but they undermine the action by leaving too little time to digest each shot.

Nevertheless, The A-Team is still highly recommended because I had a lot of fun watching it. To paraphrase Hannibal Smith’s famous catch phrase, “I love it when a movie comes together.”

A Twentieth Century Fox release.  Director:  Joe Carnahan.  Screenplay:  Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods, based on the television series created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell.  Original Music:  Alan Silvestri.  Cinematography:  Mauro Fiore.  Cast:  Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Patrick Wilson, and Gerald McRaney.  Running Time:  117 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org.  You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff.