Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review - The A-Team

There's not much I can find to say in defence of a film like The A-Team, but I suppose I can admit that Joe Carnahan's film is admirably honest about its intentions. "Overkill is underrated," Liam Neeson's Hannibal observes towards the movie's climax, and that appears to be this filmmaker's mantra, having left behind the impressively gritty style of his breakthrough Narc for films like Smokin' Aces and this depressing mess; pictures in which the bullet and body count is of considerably greater importance than story and character. That's a particular shame for this movie, because in its TV incarnation, The A-Team's biggest asset was the collection of unlikely companions at its centre; mastermind Hannibal, charmer Face, muscleman BA and crazy Murdock. The actors selected to take on these iconic roles in 2010 may be the perfect choice or they may not, but we'll never truly know, because this picture doesn't give any of them a single moment to breathe.

As Hannibal, Liam Neeson never looks entirely comfortable, and I suspect an actor with a lighter touch would have been a better fit. As the film opens in Mexico, only he and Bradley Cooper's Face know each other, and both are in a right old fix. The process through which they manage to escape and turn the tables on their captors leads them to ex-Army Ranger BA Baracus (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) and certifiable helicopter pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley), before Carnahan leaps forward eight years to find them in the Iraq, where they are about to be framed for a crime they didn't commit.

The story that follows is barely worth devoting any time to because, to be honest, there's barely a story. It took three screenwriters to come up with the tiresome series of double-crosses, faked deaths and leaps of logic that form the movie's narrative, but their prime task appears to have been to find as many opportunities as possible for Carnahan and co. to blow things up. The A-Team is structured (if that's the word) around its action sequences, and you might argue that there's nothing unusual in a summer blockbuster taking such an approach, but those sequences are handled in such a horrendous fashion they immediately negate the film's sole reason to exist. Some of these scenes might have worked in other hands – one early set-piece cuts between Hannibal laying out his plan and the team pulling it off, while a more outlandishly imaginative one tackles the problem of steering a tank that's freefalling through the sky – but surely to enjoy these escapades you'd need to know what's going on.

The rapid-fire editing style embraced by Carnahan turns every action sequence into a shapeless, incoherent jumble of gunfire, flying bodies and fireballs, with the director never making an attempt to give the audience some sense of where his characters are in relation to one another, or where they need to be. This affliction doesn't only apply to The A-Team's money shots either, as Carnahan's inability to hold a shot for more than two seconds eats into the actors' performances. Of the main four, only Copley – who previously excelled as Wikus in the otherwise overrated District 9 – finds something like the right note, delivering a lively and occasionally funny performance as Murdock. Jackson struggles to fill Mr T's shoes as BA, but he has been saddled with an appalling subplot in which his character loses, and then regains, the will to kill. Perhaps this was intended as a sly comment on the TV show's famous refusal to kill off its villains, but it's cringeworthy as portrayed on screen. The rest of the cast barely register, and that includes Bradley Cooper, whose swaggering arrogance seems to sum up the film – so convinced of its own charm, but with no substance to back it up.

By the time The A-Team has reached its incomprehensible climax, which consists almost entirely of crates exploding, it's clear that the film's limited well of inspiration has run dry. For all of the noise and spectacle, this is a crushingly boring cinematic experience; completely empty, soulless and disposal. It represents everything that's lousy about mainstream cinema in the summer months, and coming so soon after the ambitious Inception and the near-perfect Toy Story 3, its laziness and contempt for the viewer is even more unforgivable. If you want to see a film that combines thrilling action with wit and heart, go and see Toy Story 3 instead, and if you've already seen it...well, you'd be better off seeing it a second time. I pity the fool who wastes good money on this junk.