Sunday, December 19, 2010

The A-Team (2010)

Overall Score: 7.00/10

I've long been a subscriber to the belief that every action film, no matter what level of realistm they aim for, gets one "give-me" action sequence. Usually these scenes involve a ludicrous leap from a tall building ending in a last minute catch by a helicopter, netting, tent rooftop for a fruit shop, or the rope you've latched around your stomach jerking tight and flinging you through a window. We accept these because, in the grand scheme of things, the plot of the film carries the blunt force of our interest. That and we always enjoy a bit of absurdity in our blockbusters. The A-Team is the kind of film that steps up to challenge those cinematic norms. Willing to ask the question at every turn - "just how much absurdity can we get away with?" The answer: surprisingly enough, quite a bit.

The A-Team's action scenes unfold through a series of Ocean's 11 style unveilings. You know the general gist of the plot at hand, but the in depth components that tie it all together are kept hidden. In the same manner its both a blessing and a curse. On one hand you find yourself absorbed in the action while it's occurring, waiting for the next play. On the other hand, the moment the action scene is finished you're questioning all the little components that fit into their grand schemes. Films such as this have found a real niche in film industry production following the success of Tropic Thunder, but recent efforts in Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to embrace over the top action have been met with mixed results (neither film broke the $50m box office barrier domestically). In fairness, both films are niche films for even more niche markets.

If it wasn't for the charming on screen persona of main cast, it could all be lost. Liam Neeson seems to have lost about five years (in the right lighting), and really embodies the cool, intelligent, comic nature of Hannibal Smith. Bradley Cooper's Faceman is merely an extension of his Hangover role, adding ladies man to the equation, and it's the kind of character he excels at. I was surprised to find Quinton "Rampage" Jackson a suitable substitute for Mr. T, even if his character gets a very glazed over subtext. Though to me, the real highlight of the film was Sharlto Copley, channeling Spike Jonze from Three Kings, as Captain H.M. Murdock. At times his character isn't given the lines to work with, but when the dialogue steps up to Copley's charisma hilarity ensues.

Weaving its plot around the desired action sequences, The A-Team serves as a prequel to the events that would come to define much of the television series. For those of us, myself included, with little to no prior knowledge of the original 1980's television show, this becomes a solid introduction. Through cliche, but well timed, freeze frames + names we're given a breakneck introduction to the colorful cast of misunderstood good guys on the run. Newcomers Jessica Biel as Faceman's ex Charisma Sosa and Patrick Wilson as CIA man Lynch (not the one from the 80's) are fine additions, but neither are asked to do much, and their character revelations can be seen coming from miles off.

The real faltering point for The A-Team lies in its misguided narrative. Often jerking you from destination to destination, the plot feels as if it's being written on the fly; like the action sequences were planned out long before the plot made it there. This clumsy experience does help keep you on your toes, but the transitional elements required to piece everything together end up having to be explained to you afterward. While this isn't bad in small quantities, it gets a bit tedious when every twenty minutes one of the characters has to ask Hannibal to fill them in on everything that just happened (and in turn filling in the audience). Director Joe Carnahan (Smoking Aces, Narc) does an outstanding job of keeping it all together. When the plot becomes obvious, he creates action sequences that keep you guessing. And of course, vice-versa.

Another, more minor, issue I had can be found in the lackluster Faceman-Sossa romance which receives tidbits of backstory and even less moments of cohesiveness. Their relationship becomes a crucial component in the development of Sossa's generic chasing government agent slowly coming to realize there's something else going on. Unfortunately, we're left to imagine the blanks filled in, and trust the writers when they tell us there was something deep and emotionally invested there. For a romantic like myself, it's a bit frustrating, but it can be allowed in favor of accelerated pacing.

Once it's all been pieced together, The A-Team becomes an enjoyable ride that you're likely to forget, but always have the option of enjoying again. It's the kind of action film that can get your blood pumping and laughter going without being overtly predictable, nor necessarily original. No ground is broken in subtext, character analysis, or plot contrivances. Instead, the film embraces them all, and comes out with a product fans of action-comedy will find a perfectly suitable way to spend two hours of their day.

Film Credits:
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Written by: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods
Based on the TV series by: Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell

7 better thoughts:

Lesya Khyzhnyak said...

I'm still thinking whether I should see it or not. I'm just not a fan of Bradley Cooper but this fact hadn't prevented me from watching The Hangover, for instance. Maybe, I'll give it a try.

Candice Frederick said...

this was SUCH a good action flick--funny, entertaining and adrenaline-iducing. i really enjoyed it. i do't really look for clean plots in movies like this, but rather a fun time. i was rooting for them the whole way through. the plot got silly at times, but it was really, really fun.

SugaryCynic said...

Ha, I watched this with my brother last night! Still fun the second time around. It is a very specific sort of movie, and you need to know it going in. As my brother said: "The opening credits aren't even done yet and there's been so much action! This is a movie made for me!!"

Univarn said...

@Leysa Bradley Cooper sits in the uncertain land of 'meh' for me. I don't dislike him, but he's far from a draw to make me want to seek out a movie. Luckily he's pretty good here, and even when his character flounders, the rest of the cast are more than capable of picking it up.

@Candice Oh there's no denying it's a pure fun action flick, no agenda or hidden meanings. However, when it wasn't dealing with the action I really felt it meandered painfully.

@Sugary I find that equal parts amusing and discouraging. :P

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good to hear a decent review of this one - will catch it on NetFlix sometime soon.

The Mad Hatter said...

This movie really was fun times wasn't it? Especially for Copely's zaniness. If you need to remind yourself of my enthusiasm for this flick, i dare you to dig back into back episodes of The Matineecast and listen to the one from June where Susie Q and I gush over this for forty five minutes.

CMrok93 said...

Fun, though stupid. That's how most of the action films in today's world are, I just wish the camera wasn't so all over the place.

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