At one point in The A-Team, a CIA agent played by Patrick Wilson is so pumped by a big explosion that he whoops, “That was awesome! It was exactly like Call of Duty!”
Perhaps the moment was intended as a shoutout, since actor Brian Bloom, who cowrote the movie and plays the villain, has done voice work on the Call of Duty video games. It could also be taken as satire. But mainly it feels like a capsule review. The A-Team may not be exactly like Call of Duty — if anything, it’s probably less realistic. But it is an undisguised bid to grab the video-game audience with excitement that never lets up, even if it doesn’t make sense.
There should be a term for the kind of action filmmaking that’s edited into an indistinguishable blur of actors, stuntpeople, flaming props and computer graphics — let’s call it action slurry. And it can work. In the Bourne movies, it made you feel like you were Jason Bourne. In The Dark Knight, it went with the whole “eruption of chaos” theme. But action slurry is not the right medium for an adaptation of a 1980s TV show known mainly for its well-worn catchphrases and cheapie explosions.
Director and cowriter Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) is so busy keeping things moving that he fails to tell a coherent story. That’s OK — a tight narrative isn’t what you expect from The A-Team. What you do expect are fun banter and cornball performances. But it’s hard for actors to make an impact when the soundtrack does its best to drown them out, and the camera seldom pauses on them for more than two seconds at a time.
This time around, the fearsome foursome of Special Forces dudes led by John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) are veterans of Iraq instead of Vietnam. The movie starts with their action-packed meeting in Mexico, then lurches forward eight years to start again in Baghdad, where the slimy Wilson enlists them in a daring mission that leads to their disgrace and eventual rebirth as soldiers of fortune. But all you really need to know is that this is a film where the heroes can escape from an exploding plane in an armored tank handily strapped to parachutes.
Amid these absurdities, the strangest thing about the movie is that Wilson and Bloom get all the laughs. As pretty boy Face, Bradley Cooper — who was once funny, I could swear it — continues his descent into infernal smugness, inflicting on us a romantic subplot with an incredibly uncomfortable-looking Jessica Biel. Sharlto Copley was a revelation as the Kafka-esque corporate flunkie in District 9, and he seems like a natural choice for “Howling Mad” Murdock, but this time his shtik consists mainly of frenetic attempts at sounding American. As for mixed-martial artist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, he fails to replicate the mystique that made so many grade schoolers in the Reagan years fall in love with Mr. T. Maybe it’s his relative lack of bling.
The biggest problem with The A-Team is that it takes itself semi-seriously at times when a MacGruber approach would have been more appropriate. It has too many slo-mo shots set to elegiac music and too many clumsy attempts at “character development” that don’t develop. Pure parody might have been the way to go.
In fact, if someone had thought to fuse The A-Team and MacGruber at the development phase, they might have generated a perfectly profitable storm of “Macgyver”-esque nostalgia and steroid-addled silliness. (You can toss The Losers in that hopper for good measure.) We’ll never know. The only conclusion to draw from this mess is that what happened in the ’80s should have stayed in the ’80s.