(by Dustin Putman
Sort of the male version of "Charlie's Angels," "The A-Team" was an action series that ran from 1983-1987 on NBC, perhaps its biggest claims to fame being a recognizable music theme and the introduction of Mr. T ("I pity the fool!") to the world. Indeed, it was only a matter of time before the show got updated for the big screen. Whereas 2000's "Charlie's Angels" did a bang-up job of this—it is still a high watermark among television-to-movie adaptations—concocting endearing and sympathetic characters, an enthralling plot, an eclectic and comprehensive soundtrack, eye-popping action sequences, an energetic pace, and a bouncy tone that knew not to take itself too seriously, "The A-Team" gets just about everything wrong. The story is lame, the characters never rise above a single characteristic, the pacing is lugubrious, the tone is smugly self-important, and the action plays like an afterthought. Heck, the opening set-piece alone of "Charlie's Angels"—incorporating dizzying sky-diving stunts and explosions—is more thrilling and impressive than anything found in "The A-Team." Article continues below
Writer-director Joe Carnahan (2007's "Smokin' Aces") and co-writers Skip Woods (2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") and Brian Bloom take forever to get to the meat of their premise proper—and it's not worth the wait. Following a prologue that depicts the initial chance meeting of four Army Rangers and Iraq War vets—cigar-chomping Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), ladies' man Lt. 'Faceman' Peck (Bradley Cooper), mohawked B.A. Baracus (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson), and idiot savant pilot Capt. H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copley)—the timeline jumps ahead to "8 years...80 successful missions later." When the men are framed for the theft of some valuable printing plates in Iraq, they are dishonorably discharged and sentenced to ten years of hard time. With the help of CIA agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson), Hannibal finds a way to bust himself and the rest of his men out as they go on the run and desperately attempt to clear their names by locating the baddie who set them up, Pike (Brian Bloom).
Following a mildly diverting prologue that includes some nimble helicopter stunts, "The A-Team" begins to spin its wheels and continues to do so until the end credits. The film holds no identity beyond its recognizable name-value and, as far as one can tell, no attempt has been made to otherwise set it apart from the past umpteenth other movies just like this one. At least the recent "The Losers" had a sort of pulpy good time with itself and a memorable villain in the nonchalantly homicidal Max, played by Jason Patric; here, the bad guys are just as ill-formed as the heroes, told apart not so much by personality but by what they look like. For a supposed summer blockbuster, the action is also sparse and uninspired, the few money shots having been given away by the trailers and television ads and the rest of it a total blur thanks to incomprehensibly jittery camerawork and choppy editing. In between that, there's a ridiculous amount of down time where nothing happens; no kidding, twenty minutes go by where the A-Team quartet are basically twiddling their thumbs in and around a picturesque Vancouver lake. When your big climactic set-piece finally arrives and consists of nothing more than some CGI cargo crates toppling over, that's a pretty tell-tale sign that no one's trying very hard.
The cast members, largely too good for their one-note roles, are wasted. It would be easy to say that Liam Neeson (2009's "Taken") is the epitome of cool-as-a-cucumber bad-assery, but, really, that has more to do with his natural command of the screen than anything he has to do—not much—as Col. Hannibal Smith. The role is an empty shell, and that goes for the others, too. Bradley Cooper (2009's "All About Steve") sweet-talks every woman he meets as Lt. 'Faceman' Peck, and that is all the viewer learns about him. Beyond that, Cooper still hasn't warmed as a performer; there is an arrogance to the way that he looks and holds himself that would work better for a bad guy than a leading man. As B.A. Baracus, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson shows promise that he isn't able to utilize (and, for those curious, never utters the phrase, "I pity the fool!"), while Sharlto Copley (2009's "District 9") quirkily stands out at the onset as Capt. Murdock before fading into the background. Patrick Wilson (2009's "Watchmen") overplays CIA agent Lynch with such snideness that it's clear there are ulterior motives at foot. As for Jessica Biel (2010's "Valentine's Day"), what could have possibly attracted her to the nothing part of Army officer Charisa Sosa? There is a half-hearted romantic subplot between her and Face that is about as steamy as a cold shower, and otherwise she is all business, only vaguely fitting into the plot at all. Her one distinguishing trait beyond her profession? She likes Steely Dan music.
Walking into "The A-Team," one doesn't expect much more than a simple good time. Director Joe Carnahan fails to fulfill even this meager request. The one-liners aren't funny. The drama is too self-serious. The action is lazy. The exposition is dreary. The characters are too flimsy and ineffectual for the viewer to care about them. The business over printing plates—the subject of the whole conflict—doesn't exactly get one's emotions stirring. "The A-Team" is instantly forgettable, and that might be its biggest gift of all; after all, there's very little within its two hours worth remembering.