30 July 2010

A For Anaemic- THE A-TEAM Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Does it really need the preamble? Have we not been bombarded, blasted and bloody well bludgeoned with The A-Team for the last couple of months? Before every film you see in the cinema, an advert from Orange that features the film heavily, specifically that opening narration from the series! They even played the ad before the screening of the film itself! Presuming you know about these characters one way or the other, it only remains to say that Hannibal, Faceman, Murdock and B.A. are out to acquit themselves for a crime they didn't commit. Explosions ensue.

What are the odds that I'd be saying a film based on The A-Team doesn't do enough? As with the other 80s throwback I reviewed this week, The Karate Kid, the source material isn't exactly to be heralded as high art. It's a fairly fun show that somehow still ended up being pretty much universally loved by repeating the same basic story each week with likable characters. I'm no purist, but if I catch an episode while channel-hopping, I'll give it a look.

It was fun, it was frothy and crucially to its formula, it was cheap. Minimal budget, maximum returns- the show was insanely popular in its heyday. All you should really need to know about The A-Team in 2010 is that it cost $100 million to make. When that much money is in play, especially from a studio like 20th Century Fox- whose executives are well-renowned for hatchet jobs on the likes of Die Hard 4 and Alien vs. Predator- there has to be some compromise. The cheesy, family-friendly stunts of the original become transparent and samey to appeal to a less than lucid 12A audience. There's death, swearing, sexual references and all those things that have led Mr. T to disavow the remake.

So it's an expensive operation that removes all the charm from the original concept, but one that's eased immeasurably by its miscast players. Liam Neeson isn't bad as team leader Hannibal, but he never particularly relaxes, seeming to deliver his lines through gritted teeth all the way through. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson steps into the Mr. T shaped hole, and mumbles his way through with all the confidence and natural grace of a UFC fighter who was quoted calling acting "kinda gay" during his promotion efforts on this one.

The worst offender is a smug and now entirely annoying Bradley Cooper as Face. Somewhere in his mind, Face clicked with "Dreamworks Face" for him, because that's almost his default expression in this film! That fucking Dreamworks Face! Seriously, Mr. Cooper?! Much more watchable is Sharlto Copley, but it's sad to see him follow up his Wikus van der Merwe from District 9 with this- a film in which he's fifth-billed, behind Jessica Biel, even though he's playing a member of the title's four-man team. He plays it wacky, but he provides welcome laughs in an otherwise anaemic remake.

It would be both churlish and forgetful to complain that the eventual villain of the piece is underpowered, because the bad guys of the week in the series were always underpowered compared to the larger-than-life protagonists. At the same time, the film gains nothing for evoking Green Zone-esque mercenaries and upgrading the context to the war in Iraq. Even having the team still working for the military makes this one long origin piece, almost as unforgivable as the languorous back-story of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood from a few months back.

You might like the camaraderie between the protagonists, because it does liven up a pretty bog-standard action film, but I found it to be full of itself, backslapping and condescending. It's like the film is constantly trying to persuade you that it's fun so you'll excuse its faults, rather than actually showing you a good time. Any sense of fun just feels intensely artificial. It definitely doesn't help that we've seen almost every good action setpiece in all the adverts and trailers. What remains is one admittedly brilliant gag sequence in a mental hospital and a bunch of CG-infused stupidity. It's the film that's suffered the most for its advertising campaign in recent memory- sure, that extensive clusterfuck will get people to see it, but will they be satisfied?

Remember The Losers, from earlier this year? Well that film out-A-Teamed The A-Team. This reboot has squandered its potential by sticking with the playbook for big-budget action films and taking itself seriously enough that its faults are just magnified. It's not just the absence of series hallmarks, like BA's van (for the most part) and that theme tune, but it's the utter lack of anything to latch onto and really enjoy. Lots of people will call this "fun", but I doubt many will stretch to call it "good".

That A in the title couldn't honestly be said to stand for "Awful", but there are any number of other words I would fit in there. Like Average, or Atypical, or Awkward, or, as I said earlier, Anaemic. Hardcore fans of the series will be disappointed and there's really very little to recommend to new audiences either, except maybe Sharlto Copley's Murdock. Shame he had to hang around with a bunch of other more unlikable gits, really. 

The A-Team is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If and when you see The A-Team, if there's no-one else to talk to, and if you know how, maybe you can leave... a comment. (gunfire and... cue theme tune.)

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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