Film Review: The A-Team

A relentlessly paced but almost comically nonsensical big-screen version of a TV series that's remembered more for its nostalgic value than its actual quality.

Whenever anyone over a certain age thinks back on "The A-Team," the action-adventure serial about a squad of ex-soldiers turned problem-solvers-for-hire that ran on NBC from 1983 to 1987, the details that spring to mind include the show's peppy theme song, its popular catchphrases (particularly "I pity the fool!" and "I love it when a plan comes together") and the cast's hair and wardrobe choices. (What kid didn't want to rock Mr. T's signature mohawk and gold chains?)

What you rarely hear anyone discussing are the plots of the episodes themselves. That's because "The A-Team" wasn't really big on plot and it didn't have to be; the series' easily digestible premise, entertaining cast and elaborate (for TV anyway) action sequences were enough to bring viewers back week after week. Like a lot of shows from that era, "The A-Team" probably wouldn't last very long in today's television landscape, which tends to favor programs that offer more complex storylines and characters. Funnily enough, though, it nicely complements the mindset of most contemporary big-screen blockbusters, which increasingly rely on firepower-heavy narratives that can be summarized in two sentences or less.

Thus, much like its source material, the long-in-the-works A-Team movie has next to no interest in plot. As penned by the writing trio Joe Carnahan (who also serves as director), Brian Bloom and Skip Woods, the film is entirely set-piece-driven with little attention paid to the stuff that comes in between the action sequences...you know, minor things like establishing character relationships and motivations.

In essence, what the filmmakers have done is spend two hours covering the exact same ground that the show handily summarized in the voiceover narration that played over the opening credits. The only new material is a lengthy and largely incomprehensible title sequence that reveals how the titular team—which, once again, includes master planner Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), pretty boy "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper), wild and clinically crazy pilot "Howlin' Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley) and all-around bad-ass B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson)—came together for the first time. (In case you were wondering, their secret origin appears to be that they were all conveniently in Mexico at the same time and bonded over their matching tattoos.)

From there, the movie jumps ahead eight years and sets us down in Iraq, where the now-veteran squad is tasked with recovering a set of stolen U.S. currency printing plates. Little do Hannibal and his boys suspect that they are actually pursuing a MacGuffin—an object that they'll have to chase all over the globe, only recovering it when the end credits roll. Anyway, the operation goes south and the members of the A-Team wind up court-martialed and imprisoned.

Naturally, the next step is an elaborate escape attempt, which arrives at the hour mark and suggests that the series-derived exposition might at last be over and the movie itself can finally begin. If only that were the case; instead, a number of explosions and one rescued MacGuffin later, the team remain wanted men and opt to become mercenaries to pay the bills. In fact, the film closes with the same voiceover that opened the series, a poor attempt at an in-joke that comes across like a taunt for wasting two hours of your life when you could have just watched the show's opening credits on YouTube and gotten the same experience (and story) without spending a dime.

Look, it goes without saying that an A-Team movie was, at best, just going to be dumb fun. But Carnahan's film fails to live up to even those low standards by offering a whole lot of dumb and not very much fun. Movies like this live and die on the strength of their action sequences and The A-Team features set-pieces that are promising in concept but lousy in execution. Take the film's centerpiece, which involves the team hijacking a military airplane only to get shot down by army-operated drones, forcing them to parachute to Earth...in a full-sized tank. It's a crazy (and therefore awesome) idea for an action sequence, but Carnahan botches it through poor staging and chaotic cutting that renders the entire thing incomprehensible. Even less elaborate battles—like a simple scene of B.A. punching some fools in the face—are badly choreographed and edited to within an inch of their lives.

Since the script doesn't give them actual characters to play, the actors are largely reduced to vamping for the camera, tossing out visual and verbal references to the performers that previously inhabited their roles. A consummate pro, Neeson has been the best thing in bad movies before, but even he seems disinterested in this material, mouthing Hannibal's familiar phrases with a smirk on his lips and no conviction in his voice. Cooper and Copley do little more than the bare minimum asked of them, while Jackson—a mixed-martial-arts fighter making his acting debut—shares Mr. T's bulk, but not his goofy charisma. (Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson round out the cast as a driven army captain and a duplicitous CIA agent, respectively, but they function as little more than walking, talking props.)

It's only appropriate that The A-Team is being released in theatres at the same time the television industry enters repeat season; after all, this movie is little more than an extended repeat of a show that wasn't very good the first time around.