Movie review by Greg Carlson
In “The A-Team,” director Joe Carnahan keeps most of the promises suggested by the title of his 1998 debut “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane.” Cacophonous, shrill, stupid, and ugly, Carnahan’s retooling of the wildly popular NBC series that ran from 1983 to 1987 embraces the cartoonish hallmarks of its source material with a huge bear hug. Seemingly made exclusively for young teenage boys, “The A-Team” rockets from one mindless action sequence to the next, rarely stopping to catch its breath. Character is an afterthought at best; we should, after all, be able to identify the title quartet by the simplified mannerisms that distinguish them from one another.
The key personality traits of the original four cast members are replicated in earnest. Liam Neeson’s Hannibal Smith is the seasoned, cigar-chomping paterfamilias, channeling George Peppard every time he repeats signature catchphrase “I love it when a plan comes together.” Quinton Jackson is serviceable as B.A. Baracus, the swing-first-ask-questions-later heavy so memorably originated by Mr. T. Bradley Cooper takes over Dirk Benedict’s Templeton “Faceman” Peck, the sexually irresistible con artist. Finally, the essence of Dwight Schultz’s ridiculous nut job Murdock, the multilingual pilot extraordinaire, is captured by a twitchy Sharlto Copley.
The other performers are as bland and forgettable as any of the straw men (and rarely women) who populated the TV series in supporting roles. Patrick Wilson’s slimy CIA operative Lynch provides the hissability alongside the equally venomous “Black Forest” security contractor Pike (Brian Bloom, who also co-wrote the screenplay). Jessica Biel stumbles around with little to do besides spar and flirt with old flame Face. Needless to say, she neither sees nor speaks to another woman for the duration of the movie. Gerald McRaney, as far from the quality dialogue of “Deadwood” as possible, turns up as General Morrison, a crafty pal of Hannibal’s who may be hiding a secret or two.
What passes for plot is loosely cribbed from the series, and whenever the mood arises, other callbacks to the show are trotted out – not that anyone born after 1980 would have much direct recollection of any of them. Murdock escaping from a mental institution, B.A.’s vaguely condescending fear of flying, the group’s drive to prove their innocence, the farfetched mechanical marvels hastily slapped together from spare parts – all of these things and more are meant to either fuel nostalgia or simply paint by numbers in between shots of massive explosions.
Since this installment is in many respects a slightly repurposed origin story that follows an inane caper revolving around stolen United States treasury printing plates, one key element from the old show that goes missing is the set-up in which a desperate underdog facing impossible odds hires the A-Team. The quaint magnanimity of the 1980s version returns (the gang would never violate their ethical and patriotic codes) and for the most part, so does the sterilized version of combat in which very few deaths are graphically depicted. The new “A-Team” is unlikely to capture the zeitgeist – don’t count on “Rampage” Jackson dressing up as Santa Claus at the White House next Christmas – but it does pity the fool who expects anything other than choreographed detonations at ear-splitting volume.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/14/10.