So…I Watched the A-Team Movie
December 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
No, that’s not a reference to Battlestar Galactica.
It is, in fact, a verse from Ecclesiastes. It simply means that thousands of years ago, God knew that by the twenty-first century, humans would be plum out of ideas and would start remaking existing things up the wazoo.
Remaking something bad into something awesome (a la Battlestar) makes sense; remaking Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with someone other than Gene Wilder should get you sent to pop culture jail. Yes, even you, Johnny Depp. And maybe if you’re incarcerated for a while you’ll stop making Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.
The new A-Team movie is based on a TV show from so long ago, it doesn’t even exist according to Hollywood. I mean, they’re already rebooting Spider-man, and while I support the production of any movie with Emma Stone, Spider-man 3 came out less than 5 years ago. Granted, it was a flaming train-wreck of awful, but I vividly remember going to see it. Hollywood, on the other hand, now has the memory of a goldfish, which (according to my Snapple top) is only three seconds long.
But I digress: this new A-Team movie exists, and I watched it. Alone. On purpose. This was not like the time I was sick and accidentally watched all of 27 Dresses despite the following: 1) I dislike “chick-flicks” more often than not and won’t watch just any rom-com. I’ll admit to actually liking The Notebook (probably due to Ryan Gosling’s magic power of never being in a bad movie. Seriously, watch any of his movies, even the ones from when he was like 19: not one of them sucks. Come on, man, be human for a moment) but other than that I’ve been hoping that Nicholas Sparks will be murdered in a creative way and then someone can make a movie about that that’ll be far better than any based on his god-awful books. 2) I severely dislike James Marsden. Not to be confused with James Marsters, who is a compact, bleached-blonde pillar of pure awesome. 3) I hate Katherine Heigl with the fiery passion of 100 gay suns. But apparently I was tired/ill/not-giving-a-crap enough to watch the entire thing.
What, you ask, would prompt me to watch The A-Team? For a while now, my best friend S has been telling me I should watch it. He and I like all of the same movies, television, and music, so I trust his recommendations, and his description of this film in particular really piqued my interest.
“Have you watched the A-Team?” he asked me.
“No. I heard it was bad.”
“It’s bizarre. It’s like two movies stitched together. One of them is this ultra generic, terribly written action movie and the other is a tongue-in-cheek action film with all these smart comedic moments — and there are too many of them for it to be accidental. Someone wrote these jokes on purpose.”
He also mentioned that The A-Team breaks one of the cardinal rules of film directing, or at least mainstream film directing: the characters talk all over each other. Multiple characters speak at once, saying different things, and the crisp break marking the transition from one person’s line to the other is absent. In real life, of course, people interrupt each other and overlap their speaking all the time, but in mainstream film and television, that aspect of realism is usually reigned in so that the audience can make out what the frak is being said.
S’s description left me intrigued, and considering that The A-Team stars Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper, along with Sharlto Copley, I was pretty willing to watch it anyway. While the South African actor hasn’t been in too many films, I really liked Sharlto Copley in District 9, and he happens to remind me of Jackie Earle Haley — something about how they both play mentally unsteady really well? — whom I adore (Little Children is one of my favorite films, and in it Haley gives a complex, heartbreaking performance as a sex offender returning to live with his mother after being released from prison. Also, Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson get naked if that appeals to you more than pedophiliac sex offenders).
I’ve mentioned my love for Bradley Cooper before, and I’ve actually liked him since he was in this WB show from the early 2000s called Jack and Bobby, which was about two brothers named (in a shocking twist) Jack and Bobby, one of whom grows up to become President, but somehow these brothers are not the Kennedys. It did not make a lot of sense as a show, but at the time I was willing to try out pretty much anything on the WB. I was still watching Smallville on purpose.
In Jack and Bobby, B-Coop played a graduate student who has a (romantic/sexual) relationship with his older professor and who was an adorable relief from the complete confusion that was the show’s larger story arc. Then, a few years later, he was hilarious in Failure to Launch alongside Zooey Deschanel and Justin Bartha (whom I adore in the National Treasure movies — “This car smells weird” — which I don’t particularly like in themselves). Failure to Launch is actually an enjoyable movie, provided you skip all the scenes with Matthew McConnaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. So, the entire main plot. And then there’s The Hangover, which I will proudly say is one of my favorite movies of all time, which leads others to have conversations about me like the following:
Best friend K: Yeah, she’s obsessed with The Hangover.
K’s Friend: I thought she went to Stanford.
Sooo yeah. As for Liam Neeson, I’ve never not loved him, though I did find it distracting that he voices Aslan in the new Narnia movies. I’ve only seen the first one, but the entire time I kept thinking, “Liam Neeson is Jesus!”
About 1/3 of The A-Team is a great movie, but that 1/3 is scattered throughout the entire film, so it’s not like you can watch the first 30 minutes and then turn it off, like most Ricky Gervais movies (I want back the two hours I spent watching The Invention of Lying with my dad. That movie was so dull, a piece of my soul disintegrated like a Cheeto that Ricky Gervais sat on — before the weight-loss).
The good lines in The A-Team are not doled out equally, however. Many of the things that come out of Bradley Cooper’s mouth are gold. Nothing that comes out of Liam Neeson’s mouth is. Sorry, Liam. As the boss, the writers apparently needed him to explain in very overwrought language everything that the movie should simply have been implying. One thing audiences always love is being talked down to. Then again, Jack and Jill made $25 million its opening weekend, so clearly stupid is the new black. (Well, it probably has been for a while…)
The movie’s opening sequence of 15 or so minutes takes place 8 years before the rest of the story and exists as exposition establishing what to expect from each character and how such wildly varied personalities coexist. We learn:
Liam Neeson is a badass with a heart (he doesn’t shoot the dogs that are attacking him, which I appreciate). Also, a cigar.
Bradley Cooper will sleep with your wife and then say a lot of snarky things (assuming “you” are a Mexican drug lord).
The New Mr. T really likes his tricked-out van, and he doesn’t like flying. At all.
Sharlto Copley is a brilliant pilot but also certifiably insane. The team goes to pick him up from the psychiatric wing, from which he has escaped, allowing him to pretend to be a doctor and extract the bullet from New Mr. T’s arm, then sew up the wound with a bunch of stitches in the shape of a lightning bolt. Clearly Sharlto and New Mr. T will have some relationship tension to come.
Fast forward eight years. Near the beginning of the main section of the film, Hannibal (Neeson) and his crew have a school-yard name-calling match with their equivalent bad-guy crew, introducing the audience to villain Head Douchebag. The tussle ends with Head Douchebag spitting, “Yeah, well I make more money than you!” and Hannibal basically saying that money can’t buy cool.
Oh, and by the way, by “school yard,” I mean “Army encampment in Iraq.” Patrick Wilson is also there, as a mysterious CIA agent whose most pressing mystery seems to be what he is doing there, as Wilson stands around awkwardly flicking his eyes around for most of the scenes in Iraq. At times he also puts on and takes off his sunglasses. He’s been watching a lot of CSI: Miami.
Oh yeah, and Jessica Biel shows up as an Army captain whose actual job is incredibly vague but seems to consist of bitching out Face (Bradley Cooper) because they used to date and I guess it ended badly. I found myself saying, during their first interaction and then about every fifteen minutes until the movie’s close, why is Jessica Biel in this movie? The romantic subplot only receives lip-service
though it does allow the writers to give Bradley Cooper all the bad lines poor Liam spends so much time trying to make work, so Face may get some of the best lines in the film, but he also gets the most pathetic (and pathetically written) laying-my-heart-out-for-you scene. In a photobooth. Yeah.
In terms of plot, it’s basically this: the Team gets framed for a crime they didn’t commit (theft, murder, and insubordination, the last probably being the worst in Army think, if the murder wasn’t of their commanding officer) and are consequently stripped of their ranks and incarcerated in separate prisons (and one mental hospital).
Mysterious CIA Agent Patrick Wilson shows up again, acting more focused and less like a rabbit during Rabbit Season, perhaps because he gets to wear a suit instead of body-armor. He helps break Liam Neeson out of jail, and Liam/Hannibal frees the other Team members in amusing ways. Face, for example, has obtained an (upright? Is that a thing?) tanning booth in prison, and Hannibal wheels him out inside the tanning booth, while he’s pounding on it and yelling, which obviously no guards would notice. Baracus (New Mr. T) gets sprung from a moving prison transport van, and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) rejoins the team after they drive a van through the wall of his hospital, perfectly timed with a 3-D movie the patients are watching of a van driving at them.
The Team then set about trying to clear their names by catching the real killer/thief/traitor to the Armed Forces, which leads to their abandoning a burning airplane, inside a tank, which they then fly by taking advantage of the backward momentum provided by firing the tank’s guns.
Because this movie is this movie, the Team survives to fight another day. For the rest of the film, Jessica Biel shows up intermittently (why is she in this movie?) and Patrick Wilson is revealed to be the real bad guy, with Head Douchebag just a lower-level bad guy, if extremely violent and probably unhinged. As it becomes more and more clear that the Mysterious CIA Agent is the true villain, his character’s lines get better and better.
When he springs Head Douchebag from Jessica Biel’s custody, she yells about how the CIA doesn’t have any rules. Patrick Wilson responds, “The CIA has rules. Our rules are just cooler than yours.”
In order to demonstrate that Mysterious CIA Agent is a desk-jockey without experience in the field, the screenwriters give him a bunch of (pure gold) lines comparing real live violence to video games.
“Wow, that looks just like Call of Duty!“
The screenwriters, probably inadvertently, turn him into a hilarious commentator on the effects of our society’s violence-suffused entertainment culture (video games, action movies…) and of technological advancements in warfare that allow soldiers to be detached from the real people that they’re killing.
Twists are revealed, snark is snarked, Bradley Cooper’s naked torso is gloried in, things are blown up, and the movie progresses exactly as you expect it would, only with much smarter lines from Patrick Wilson than I could have dreamed considering his first five scenes in the movie. When it ended, I felt that I had been (intermittently) very entertained, but I mostly felt confused about the fusion of wit with terribly overwrought and clichéd language.
S, who first recommended this movie to me, voiced his desire to watch films written by the three screenwriters responsible for The A-Team and figure out which one was secretly brilliant and which simply sucked. It turns out that 1/3 of the team responsible for writing the Team is actually the actor playing Head Douchebag, and has never written a film before. The second 1/3 is the director for The A-Team, who has previously written Smokin’ Aces and Smokin’ Aces 2, among other things I’ve never heard of — though he’s apparently writing Liam Neeson’s upcoming action-thriller The Grey, which I like to think of as Liam Neeson vs. Wolves. Since he directed this hot mess, I just don’t see him being responsible for it’s small percentage of good parts, since he could have theoretically made it all good parts. The final screenwriter previously wrote Thursday (which I’ve never heard of), Swordfish (which is maybe theoretically good? All I have ever heard about the movie is that Halle Berry is topless in it), Hitman, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is the in midst of writing Die Hard 5: A Good Day to Die Hard and two other movies.
I’m guessing, then, that the actor playing Head Douchebag (Brian Bloom) is the writer who is secretly hilarious — he does act pretty well and is sufficiently creepy and douchebaggy in the movie. So Brian, I look forward to more from you as a writer; hopefully the blog post required from your next film will be unequivocal praise, rather than the written equivalent of shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Eh?” while pointing to a picture of Liam Neeson and/or Bradley Cooper.