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"THE A-TEAM"
(2010) (Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A quartet of special forces ops escapes from military prison and sets out to clear their names and get revenge on those who wronged them.
PLOT:
Eight years after forming an unlikely quartet of special force ops, Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (LIAM NEESON) leads Lt. Templeton "Face" Peck (BRADLEY COOPER), Sgt. B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracus (QUINTON "RAMPAGE" JACKSON) and Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock (SHARLTO COPLEY) in covert operations for General Morrison (GERALD McRANEY). Now in Iraq, they set off to recover stolen U.S. Mint printing plates and $1 billion worth of newly printed currency. But they must contend with CIA agent Lynch (PATRICK WILSON) and civilian contractor Brock Pike (BRIAN BLOOM) who leads a private armed force working for Black Forest, all of whom also have their sights set on that.

While Hannibal's crew is successful at using their ingenuity and skills to retrieve the missing plates and money, things go wrong when the latter is blown up along with General Morrison. Since their mission was secret and their contact is now gone, the team ends up arrested by Dept. of Defense official Capt. Carissa Sosa (JESSICA BIEL) and her team. She ends up demoted, while Hannibal and his team are sent to separate military prisons.

With Lynch's help, however, they all escape and reunite. From that point on, and while avoiding Carissa and others who want to recapture them, Hannibal and his team set out to clear their names and bring those responsible to justice.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Like most things in life, TV shows that are original and/or exceptional in one or more ways are the ones most people can remember down to intimate details. The mediocre to poor and especially the abysmal ones, on the other hand, are usually quickly cleared from one's memory except in the general sense of recalling the title and perhaps a star or two.

For instance, I only need to see the beginning of most any "Seinfeld" episode and I can describe what's going to occur next, even if it's been years since I last saw it. Yet, for every series like that, there are countless ones where the shows all blend together into one forgettable amalgamation of mediocrity.

Take the old action series "The A-Team" as an example. While I fit squarely into the targeted demographic (male, under 21) when it originally aired, I couldn't describe one specific plot if my life depended on it.

And that's because each week the show -- that debuted on NBC back in 1983 following the success of the somewhat similarly themed first Rambo movie, "First Blood," and ran for 5 seasons -- featured its unorthodox but highly proficient quartet of special forces ops doing their thing in defeating one bad guy or another while perpetually trying to clear their names. Aside from Mr. T as one of the characters and a number of his catch phrases, nothing from the show stands out for me.

I imagine many viewers will have the same reaction to the new big-screen adaptation that's hitting theaters this week. And that's not just because it's essentially an elongated episode from the show (albeit staged in introductory mode) or that it closely follows on the heels of the quite similarly themed and equally forgettable action flick "The Losers."

Instead, it's all due to the fact that filmmakers nowadays have apparently forgotten how to make good and -- more importantly -- engaging action pics. "Back in the day," we could count on flicks like "Kelly's Heroes," "Bullit," "The French Connection," "Die Hard" or even the sci-fi hybrid "Predator" to enthrall and entertain us. In today's moviemaking climate, and apparently hoping to appease the ADD riddled target generation that replaced mine, the genre's filmmakers mightily confuse nanosecond edits and jumbled direction -- where it's hard to tell who's who and what's what -- with satisfying action.

The result is akin to a video game on steroid-fueled speed, where everything is amped up to try to gain the young male viewer's attention. In fact, there's even a video game reference in this pic. Sadly, for as frenetic as they can be, at least the action in most video games can be followed. Here, it's just a mess, and a decidedly less than engaging one at that.

In full disclosure, I wasn't looking for high art from a movie like this. I knew going in that it was going to be dumb, silly, cheesy and, if anything, clearly over the top like only Hollywood can deliver, especially when in pure summer popcorn mode. And at times it works on that degree, at least sort of.

There's a scene where the unlikely quartet -- Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley who are modern-day fill-ins for George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Mr. T and Dwight Schultz respectively) -- ends up in a tank plummeting from the sky after the transport plane carrying them is shot down.

With time running out, they then try to "fly" said armored vehicle over to a specific and desired landing point, all by firing the big gun for propulsion. It's dumb, goofy fun, and in that particular instance, the film is quite entertaining if fairly questionable in terms of applied physics.

Sadly, writer/director Joe Carnahan ("Smoking Aces") and co-screenwriters Brian Bloom and Skip Woods can't manage to maintain that sort of silly, elbow to the ribs exuberance. Sure, there are other over-the-top theatrics, stunts and such, along with plenty of male charisma, machismo and bonding slathered on.

Yet, most of that quickly starts to feel rather old and repetitive following each such occurrence, with the shootouts, explosions, fights and corrupt government and military officials all ultimately blending together into a forgettable heap of excess (at one point, Neeson's character even states that overkill is underrated -- Carnahan apparently took that to heart).

It doesn't help that the story -- that's been updated from featuring Vietnam vets to Iraqi War ones -- has too many villains and ancillary characters. That includes the one played by Jessica Biel who's present, as was the case with the actresses on the TV show, in hopes of tempering a bit of the testosterone with a pretty face and a touch or two of romantic chemistry (with Bradley Cooper who plays his part as if he walked directly off the set of "The Hangover" and onto this one).

It's not that any of that's confusing -- in fact, it's quite simple when boiled down to the basics -- but all of those folks and their accompanying baggage end up weighing down the production that ultimately feels like nothing more than an elongated and bigger budgeted episode of the TV show. Not that I can remember any of them specifically, which will also hold true for most of the material offered here. Intermittently fun but nothing more, "The A-Team" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed June 8, 2010 / Posted June 11, 2010


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