From TV Schlock to Movie Schlock

Joe Carnahan and company do the dishonorable honors in The A-Team

The once-promising director Joe Carnahan (Narc) has succumbed to Hollywood excess. While Carnahan might wax poetic about the “gravitas” of his A-Team lead actor (Liam Neeson), the only thing weighty in this mindless smash-it-up picture is the amount of money squandered on something so instantly forgettable.

Inspired by the ’80s-era television series, four Special Forces vets are forced to go rogue after being imprisoned for a vague crime involving counterfeit money. Neeson chomps on cigars in dyed gray hair as team strategist “Hannibal” Smith, while Bradley Cooper provides toothpaste charisma as “Face” Peck, a charmer with romantic ties to U.S. military heavyweight Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel). Mixed-martial-arts star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson fills Mr. T’s shoes as the Mohawk-wearing B.A. Baracus, leaving Sharlto Copley (District 9) with the short straw as the company crazy Murdock. Patrick Wilson plays good-guy-bad-guy CIA officer Lynch, who at turns helps the team escape separately from prison before attempting to frame them right back into the pokey.

Bullets fly like so much oil from a British Petroleum drill site, and giant steel storage containers explode as if they were Legos being tossed around by a caffeinated 10-year-old. If you prefer stupefaction to satisfaction, then The A-Team is the movie for you.

There’s a disconnect between Carnahan’s self-perceived serious treatment of his spoof-logic source material and a movie that seems to not take itself seriously at all. In interviews, the director talks about playing to audiences that are much more savvy than viewers were 20 years ago. Whether or not that’s true does little to distract from the obvious subtext being smuggled into a war film like The A-Team, for it is first and foremost a movie about a militarized movement that operates anywhere, anytime.

Certain societal parameters are a given: The CIA is an openly corrupt and ruthless organization driven by greed; and the Iraq and Vietnam wars are interchangeable. Even seasoned military generals aren’t above betrayal of everything they supposedly believe in when money is involved. It’s with these accepted quantities that The A-Team, like the recent rogue-team-smash-em-up flick The Losers, takes its place as a cinematic confirmation of a world run by corporations whose militaries take everything from everyone.

The A-Team makes this lack of political and military accountability go down like a fast-action TV commercial. Cinematically that’s exactly what it is—an eye-candy sales pitch for war. Why bother to worry about the fallout when destruction is so much fun to watch. The heroes of The A-Team are nothing more than a narcissistic bunch of louts who “love it when a plan goes well.”

Substance is the missing ingredient, and the thing that separates a crappy movie like The A-Team from a truly inspired piece of complex filmmaking like Inglourious Basterds. Both movies are about a rogue team of vengeful men, but only one has anything to say.

The A-Team (PG-13) ★☆☆☆☆

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