I’m convinced that, at some point during its prolonged gestation in development hell, someone did a bit of a switch-a-roo with the screenplay for The A-Team. One quiet day, I think that somebody got a draft of a future Mission: Impossible movie, and while nobody was looking, stapled an A-Team cover on it, hoping nobody would notice.
And they certainly didn’t seem to, either. It would at least explain how an A-Team movie – a film based on a TV show about people making wisecracks who can’t shoot anyone properly for toffee – has become so leaden down with such a convoluted plot. By the time you’ve sat through the various double crosses, the narrative jumps and the hoops the story forces itself to jump through, you might just be pining for something a little simpler. Like Inception
It’s not the only problem that The A-Team movie has, either. It takes, for instance, far too long to get out of the blocks. The first half hour or so occasionally sparkles, but effectively has to put the gang of four mercenaries for hire together twice. It’s not that it’s not good to watch that happen, it just slows down a film that inevitably proves to feel overlong.
Yet, from these foundations, director Joe Carnahan manages to fashion a solid action movie that, when it does find its feet, leaves you feeling that this is what they’d have liked to have done on the TV show had they had a bit more cash.
Much has already been made of the wonderfully over-the-top, and CGI-heavy, flying tank sequence. But my highlight amongst the set pieces that Carnahan impressively delivers is an action sequence that seems to have been contrived simply to jab fun at 3D cinema. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it, but it’s at moments like these that The A-Team is at its finest.
It’s aided considerably, too, by most of its cast. Liam Neeson is a fine Hannibal, grounding the movie with a solid performance and chomping away on his cigar with due relish. As Face, we don’t really get to see enough of Bradley Cooper, but again, he proves a very good choice for the role. And then there’s District 9‘s Sharlto Copley as Murdock, in scene-stealing form. There’s no question that it’s Copley that walks away with the acting honours here, being both very, very funny and utterly batshit crazy.
The weak link is mumbler extraordinaire Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as B.A. It’s quite feasible that Jackson puts in good work here, but I couldn’t tell you with any conviction, simply because I could barely hear a word he says. It’s a good job, for instance, that I had foreknowledge of B.A. Baracus’ fear of flying, else I’d genuinely have no idea what Jackson was mumbling about every time they drag his character near a plane.
Nonetheless, the casting here is generally very successful, which makes it a pity that the film’s US box office performance is likely to damage the chances of a sequel. Because, with the characters in place, and with moments that capture the gleeful madness of the television source material, there’s quite a lot to like about The A-Team. I’d love, for instance, to see some more Carnahan action sequences on the big screen, and I’d happily lead the charge now for a Murdock spin-off movie.
But what I’d most like to see is an A-Team movie freed of much of the unnecessary baggage that drags this one down. One that doesn’t feel the need to contrive new ways to pull the rug from under our feet at regular intervals, and one that’s content to put in place a more focussed story, and then let the characters do their stuff.
I’d argue that around a third of The A-Team movie we’ve got here manages that. The rest? You’re never far away from a spark of life, but this is an action film that bogs itself down when it really could use cutting loose and having a bit more fun.
For when it does that, The A-Team is just the kind of light, gleeful action movie fodder I really hoped I’d get just a little bit more of. That said, even at the slowest moments, the cast work hard to keep things chugging along, and you’re not likely to feel short-changed. It’s good, occasionally very good. It’s just too muddled to reach any higher than that.
Now, should the upcoming Mission: Impossible 4’s narrative be simple, and should Tom Cruise fail to kill a single person throughout the entire film, I’ll be convinced that there might just be something in my script-swap theory…