REVIEW: The A-Team Pushes the Action-Junk Envelope in All the Wrong Ways

Movieline Score: 3
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The plot of The A-Team can be summed up thus: Stuff happens, connected by dialogue. Helicopters explode; human beings are nearly incinerated; trucks burst into flames. "Ha ha! Wow! You blew that thing up!" says Bradley Cooper, or Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, or Sharlto Copley -- or maybe they all say it at once, though that would entail some extra coordination that's probably beyond their grasp. Meanwhile, big-name star Liam Neeson looks on, trying to add some class to the joint, though even he seems to know it's a losing battle.

The A-Team, directed by Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces), is supposedly based on the TV series of the same name about a ragtag team of Special Forces guys who become soldiers of fortune after a miscarriage of military justice forces them underground. The show featured lots of cartoony violence and a criminally appealing star -- Mr. T -- who was known and loved even by people who never watched the show. (He was on a cereal box, for Pete's sake!)

But this A-Team isn't about charismatic personalities or teamwork or even, really, about cartoony violence. It's simply about blowing stuff up -- which is great as far as it goes, but maybe it's time we asked a little more from our action movies. There's no real plot here: The feeble excuse for one is that a set of plates used to print U.S. currency has been stolen, supposedly by some Middle Eastern baddie, and the A-Team has to get it back. There's lots of double- and triple-crossing, which is supposed to make the story seem intricate when it's really just half-baked and convoluted.

But let's say you don't even care about the story; all you care about is the action. Good news for moviegoers who prefer trailers to actual movies: The A-Team qualifies as the first real movie-length trailer. It's cut together in such a way that we can get the gist of the story by piecing together shards of scenes and images as we go along, without really having to pay attention to the dialogue or any overarching narrative flow. So much stuff is blown up, crashed, or smashed to smithereens that the movie stops throwing off any kind of visceral charge early on; instead, it lulled me into a glassy-eyed stupor. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if The A-Team isn't actually close to brilliant, in terms of its complete lack of regard for coherence, visual excitement or basic character mechanics. The movie is so willfully, perversely unconstructed (as opposed to deconstructed) that it becomes a sort of tone poem, opaque and unknowable.

But I'm afraid I'm giving it too much credit. The A-Team would be more enjoyable if its stars had any charm, or if, five minutes after leaving the theater, we could remember anything about what their characters were like. Copley (who starred in last year's low-budget sci-fi hit District 9) is Murdock, the crazy pilot. Cooper is Face, so called because he's always sucking one. (Jessica Biel wanders through the movie, lost and underused, as one of his old love interests.) B.A. Baracus is played by former UFC light heavyweight champ Jackson, who has almost nothing to do except scowl and look brawny. And Neeson struggles not-so-valiantly in the George Peppard role as the cigar-chomping Hannibal Smith.

I have renewed respect for Neeson since he started taking roles in trashier movies: I loved watching him knock heads in Pierre Morel's joyously disreputable Taken. Roles like these loosen him up, and in the opening sequence of The A-Team -- in which he almost magically dispatches a duo of snarling Rottweilers without harming them -- I thought he, and the movie, might be fun.

But he, and the movie, only ground me down. Neeson barely registers as a presence here. (I kind of remember Cooper, because of his radioactive glowing teeth.) The movie is cut in such a way that it doesn't really contain scenes; it's more like a bundle of dangling participles. That's not good for actors, especially a performer like Neeson, who's at his best, even in a total piece of crap, when he can inject a little soul here and there. There's no room for soul in The A-Team. Even in the context of junky-fun action adventures, this one hits a new low. It's a worst-case scenario for the way action movies are headed: It's all action and no movie.



Comments

  • Emotionally Retarded says:

    I love me my Stephanie, but "cut [together] in such a way" -- TWICE!?!? Streamline it, baby.

  • There is "dumb summer blockbuster" and then there is "totally braindead movie." My mouth literally dropped upon seeing the commercials with them falling out of a plane in a tank. It's... WHAT? I mean, I'd heard that that happened in the movie, but it was so fake looking, and then they have Bradley Cooper looking like a fool shooting things.

  • The Winchester says:

    This saddens me. But I probably should expect it. I'm still gonna see it.

  • Dimo says:

    So I take it that there is no special appearance by the A-Team's ultimate weapon...the cabbage cannon?

  • casting couch says:

    By the sounds of it, the cabbages will be flying in the opposite direction.

  • casting couch says:

    But on the other hand, some very positive reviews are popping up.

  • Anon says:

    I was dismayed by this review, until I realized it was by the person who drove me from Salon.com. Guess I'll be seeing this one after all - it'll probably be pretty entertaining if miss hoitey-toitey hates it.

  • David says:

    Why wud u ever get a female to review an action movie????? That's like a male reviewing sex and the city.. No clue. Stick to chick flicks, ur opinion on action movies means nothing.

  • Rob says:

    Well...she hates Sex and the City 2, so, I'm not sure I understand your point, David

  • David says:

    Sounds like she doesn't like many movies...but honestly mate, females rating action movies is rubbish. They wernt born to enjoy these things. Males were born for action.

  • ZOOEYGLASS1999 says:

    I find it hard to take a critic seriously who gave Furry Vengeance a 6 1/2.
    I saw A-Team last night. Was it great? No. Was it macho fun? Hell yes. It was exactly like the old show: forget about the ludicrous plots, its all an excuse for stunts.

  • RoggieP says:

    I am not planning to see the A-Team movie at all. The trailer looks a mess and totally over the top in a really bad way!
    Here's a great piece, written by a TV producer, with an interesting slant on why the signs don't look good for the big screen A Team movie... and why the trailer highlights all that's currently wrong with Hollywood today
    http://www.remotepatrolled.com/2010/06/the-a-team-movie/

  • The Cantankerist says:

    What's this sexist tripe? She's female, so she can't review action movies? Gimme a break!
    David, I'm male. By your criterion, I was "born for action". But I can't stand movies without a decent spine, movies that wander about aimlessly between explosions, movies that don't make you (or *let* you) care about anyone in it. An action "quip" is a poor substitute for wit. A fight scene isn't about blurring everything at lightning speed so that you can't tell who's fighting who - that's monkey work; it becomes a thing in the shape of a fight scene, deliberately designed to be anonymous and safe, so that the crowd knows "when the cutting stops going so fast, and someone says something, that's when we all cheer/laugh". Boring. Boring. Boring. Sick to death of it. Life's too short.
    Mind you, you know how this review will appear in the ads: "It's all action..."

  • Scott Shimp says:

    soooo happy stephanie is back! was getting tricky going only by Morgenstern's take. did seem like sub-par writing for her though. maybe a time crunch

  • Trace says:

    It's this year's Transformers 2, except this time there's no Shia LeBeouf. I can't buy Bradley Cooper as a protagonist because his mannerisms are too douche-y. He should be playing anti-heros, not "good guys". And his Face character! He's supposed to be a ladies' man, but his only female interaction inovlves his ex who left him because HE wanted to settle down?!!! Blow it out yer ass!
    And Shartlo Copley as Murdoc. What a mess. Absolutely horrible. Couldn't keep an accent to save his life.
    And Joe Carnahan does arguably the worst directing job since Watchmen. Quick cuts to hide poorly staged fight sequences. A refusal to let scenes show characters in one location for more than five seconds. Refuses to let the actors do anything other than grin or grimace. Completely amateur. You can't even appreciate the flying tank sequence because he wants to hide how fake it looks.
    So yeah, really bad. But I'm glad Stepahnie Zacharek, the critic who opened my mind, found a new home.

  • As a kid i watched all the The A - Team Series every week without fail and enjoyed it. The A - Team Movie is the Top movie ever produced. I Preordered it and have watched it 8 times in four days. I'm 17, so this movie attracts all ages.

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