“The A-Team” – Renegades to the Rescue

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

What a mess! No massive object escapes being either violently upended or blazingly obliterated in director Joe Carnahan’s “The A-Team.” Based on the TV series, it’s boys’ night out, a male rejoinder to the female bonding fantasy “Sex and the City 2” (2010) conjures. Pass the testosterone, Mac. There are evildoers to kill, whole bunches of ‘em.

Neither puts either gender in a very flattering light. You wouldn’t want to place this particular bloodbath in a time capsule, to be unearthed in a millennium or so and inferred as our legacy. To wit: “They were an odd breed. While well past their Cro-Magnon roots, they nonetheless reveled in vicarious rituals celebrating an earlier way of life.”

[smartads]

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional, macho delve into mindless animal behavior. Like Darwin said, it’s only natural. But what’s scary is that, for all too many audiences, this stuff is their idea of the movies…our equivalent of that modern anger assuager portended in “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). Scarier still, they vote.

There have been more ambitious flexings of the general grudge. “First Blood,” a.k.a. “Rambo” (1982), set the contemporary tone when disgruntled, mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) revisited that nadir of our foreign policy and this time single-handedly returned us a victory. Here, war vets are again the heroes.

Only this time, due to our increased sophistication, the tale is much more convoluted. Reminiscent in swagger to the pilots of the “Blackhawk Squadron” who plied the comic book skies as early as 1941, this gang of bantering, never-say-die warriors is led by Liam Neeson’s Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, fugitive warrant outstanding.

Yep, they want him, as well as his three cohorts— Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracas (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) and Murdock (Sharlto Copley)—for treason and other transgressions. But wait a minute. They were assigned a covert status. Gee, those lousy powers that be always renege on their secret deals.

Oh, woe is the protagonist who, like his sympathizing viewers, is so egregiously misunderstood. We’re sure these brave men who distinguished themselves in the Iraq War are the good guys. Now their own government hunts them. But wouldn’t you know it still doesn’t deter the dudes from fighting for truth, justice and the American way?

You see, they believe in the idea, no matter what slimy, bureaucratic grease between the levels smudges those tenets established by the Founding Fathers. Democracy will out. And if not, they’ll die trying, and have a heck of a good time in the bargain. Fact is, they probably wouldn’t want it any other way, the scalawags. And, sigh, neither would we.

Because, no matter how civilized we think we are, there’s still that smidgen of nostalgic essence that harks back to Saturday matinees at the Bijou. Men were men, and if one were pure of heart, any problem was solvable. And thus until the madness and brutality start to outweigh the flippantly delivered camaraderie, the action adventure has its appeal.

But to please a generation deluged by Orwellian Newspeak and wary of government’s boondoggles, “The A-Team” weaves a major thread of paranoia through the doings. So watch out for the CIA and a mercenary bunch known as Black Forest. Get yer scorecards, get yer scorecards, can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard.

The thing is, yes you can. It’s just that the constant cataclysms make things seem so confusing. In truth, the villains are about as transparent as the silent era’s moustache-twisting Oil Can Harry. That no one else, especially sexy Captain Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel), a military intermediary and “Faceman’s” ex-squeeze, sees it, drives us crazy.

The plot dial is set on simpleton. It involves what Alfred Hitchcock termed a McGuffin, that object of desire that moves the action along. In “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) it’s the title bird. Here it’s U.S. currency printing plates Saddam & Co. originally stole, or so we’re told. Our boys are promised exoneration if they retrieve said engravings.

Double crosses and bamboozlements ensue. The wiser, if not saner, among viewers will just let all the tiresome switcheroos wash over them. Why bother, what with everything blowing up so good? While we certainly might find a better use for special effects, these go to the head of the class. Hey, was that someone’s arm flying over there?

Mr. Neeson’s iconoclast smugly savors a cigar after each battle to punctuate the anarchy. We are astounded, not only by the aggression, but also by the fact that Hollywood profits so shrewdly from it. While academic, it’s better than seeing folks fed to lions. However, for those who don’t feel a visceral need for them, “The A-Team” barely earns a C.

“The A-Team,” rated PG-13, is a 20th Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Joe Carnahan and stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley. Running time: 117 minutes


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