It may be true, as “The A-Team’s” Col. John “Hannibal” Smith insists, that “overkill is underrated,” but you wouldn’t know it from this film.
Overly long, over-complicated and overflowing with what sounds like billions of bullets and beaucoup broken glass, this film version of the hit 1980s TV series about soldiers of fortune is an underwhelming experience. I pity the fool, as TV star Mr. T might say, who mistakes this for genuine entertainment.
That may sound unduly harsh, especially for a movie that was never intended as an Oscar contender. After all, didn’t director Joe Carnahan practically dare anyone to raise any objections by saying “If you don’t like a tank flying out of a plane, then you just don’t like summer movies.”
“The A-Team” does appear to have designs on being a more interesting film than the one that appears on the screen. The director and his screenwriting partner Brian Bloom (who share writing credit with Skip Woods) have talked in interviews about the character work that went into the film’s quartet of team members, but it was to no avail.
Known to all who remember the series, these characters, aside from Liam Neeson’s team leader Smith, include suave lothario Templeton “Face” Peck ( Bradley Cooper), crazy-like-a-fox pilot H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley), and B.A. (for Bad Attitude) Baracus (Quinto Jackson, a.k.a. Rampage), the Mohawk-wearing muscle of the group.
Although attempts are made to flesh out these individuals, they do not succeed in making them involving. In fact, the more we see of this quartet, the less we like them: an excess of hearty camaraderie comes off not as good fellowship but smug self-satisfaction. And some of the characters, especially Howlin’ Mad, are conceived in a way that is perpetually off-putting.
Carnahan, obviously, was not hired for this project because of a facility for psychological nuance but because, after adrenalized films like “Smokin’ Aces” and “Narc,” he is one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for brisk, peppy action, and he delivers. Up to a point.
For while the mayhem in “The A-Team” is effective in isolated chunks, it exists in a vacuum. Watching it feels like watching an extended trailer for the film rather than the film itself, an NFL highlights reel of cascading cars, exotic explosions and can-you-top-this craziness that wears you out with its unfocused energy.
It’s not only the off-putting characterization that is the culprit here, it’s also a “Mission Impossible"-style plot that has so many segments, twists and double and triple crosses that following it is more of a chore than an adventure.
The story begins, in a sequence intercut with the opening credits, “somewhere in Mexico,” where bad guys are doing their worst in the hot desert sun. Before the credits are over, the four A-Team members, linked by upper arm tattoos that reveal a passion for the Army Rangers, have met via a series of improbable coincidences and discovered the virtues of working together.
The film then jumps “eight years and 80 successful missions later,” with the A-Team seemingly secure in its reputation as “the best clandestine unit in the Army.” Its next assignment, set during the Iraq invasion, involves going into Baghdad and getting its hands on a billion dollars in counterfeit U.S. currency and the printing plates used to manufacture it.
As it turns out, the team has more than mere operation logistics to deal with. Intragovernmental rivalries become apparent, as a CIA operative named Lynch (Patrick Wilson) and Charisa Sosa ( Jessica Biel), a captain in the Defense Criminal Investigation Service (and an ex-flame of Face’s) face off. Then there’s Pike (screenwriter Bloom), a private military operative who heads a group the A-Team dismissively considers “assassins in polo shirts.”
This may sound like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of the plot, which goes on and on and on and even leaves room for half-baked homilies like “stuff like loyalty doesn’t fit in overhead bins.” These may not be words to live by, but they’re the best this undernourished A-Team can come up with.