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Jason Wallis ‘A-Team’ just another big, dumb summer disappointment

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Posted: Monday, June 21, 2010 1:44 pm

People sometimes tell me that I should lighten up and be more optimistic, so I tried to be hopeful about this summer movie season. Really, I did.

I was all set to spend the summer being enthralled by what looked to be a solid line-up of popcorn entertainment — titles like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “MacGruber,” “Robin Hood” and “Iron Man 2.”

So what if Hollywood only seems to be dealing in sequels and remakes/adaptations these days?

There’s still room for creativity and innovation even within the confines of today’s topsy-turvy studio system, as filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Zach Snyder and Matthew Vaughn (to name but a few talented mainstream directors with recent successes) demonstrate on a consistent basis.

But thus far this summer (save for the delightful “Get Him to the Greek”) we have not seen creativity or innovation or anything even remotely resembling real effort on behalf of Hollywood.

Studio execs wonder why their revenues are plummeting but never stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, a given film’s success has less to do with how it is marketed and a whole lot more to do with its status as a quality work that will sustain decent word of mouth.

(I am referring, of course, only to major-release movies. Limited releases are exempt from this particular hasty generalization.)

Case in point: “The A-Team,” which opened to harsh reviews and a box office gross that was significantly less than what its backers were hoping for.

It is worth noting that the film had a great marketing push behind it and some very cool previews that made it one of my most anticipated movies of the entire season.

So, given that the previews were solid and the movie was very much in the public purview prior to its opening, what could be a possible reason for its relative failure?

Could it be, perhaps, that the movie kinda sucks and naturally fell victim to dampened pre-release buzz?

Could it be that, the success of the “Twilight” series aside, deep down the general movie going public does, in fact, want to be genuinely entertained and not just pandered to?

You can bet that these possibilities aren’t being entertained on any level by anyone who matters. “The A-Team” will make just enough to justify a sequel, which will also suck due largely to the same problems that plague this initial outing. Round and round we go, with no end in sight.

And you say I should lighten up.

OK, so “The A-Team” is a silly little action picture based on a cheesy ’80s television series, and as such should not be subject to critical scrutiny. I get it.

I understand why, when dealing with the proverbial “big, dumb summer blockbuster,” a typical moviegoer’s response is to assume that a brain-dead action flick should be indiscriminately enjoyed for its rapid-fire kinetics and exciting action and awesome footage of lotsa stuff getting’ blowed up real good-like. And I’m onboard with that, to a certain extent.

Start with some swaggering heroes, throw in a bunch of explosions, spice things up with a few hand-to-hand fight scenes — baby, you got a stew goin’. But what, I ask, is the value of all this excess if it’s delivered in a manner that renders it borderline-unwatchable?

Style matters, even when content doesn’t, and few films underline that point more than “The A-Team.”

The plot is flimsy, dealing with a band of disgraced special forces soldiers who are blamed for a crime they didn’t commit and then must rely on their collective skill and wits to catch the bad guys and clear their names.

When your plot is that thin, you’d better bring the goods in the action department, and the film makes a valiant effort in this regard by offering a major action set piece roughly every 20 minutes.

But again, why should that matter if, when the action scenes do arrive, they appear to have been directed by a swarm of African bees?

Filmmaker Joe Carnahan showed some promise early last decade with the aesthetically arresting police thriller “Narc,” but the controlled chaos of that film has somehow developed into to often incomprehensible mess of gunfire and exploding gas tanks on display here. The phrase “sell-out” leaps to mind.

“The A-Team” strikes out on action, but the cast is able to salvage things enough to make the frenzied proceedings at least bearable.

Liam Neeson leads the crew as the older, wiser colonel, and he’s serviceable in the role, even if he never quite captures that aura of true badassery we’ve come to expect from him.

Bradley Cooper (the suave star of “The Hangover”), as Neeson’s right-hand man, fares better by exploiting his good looks and natural charm to full effect. If the rest of the film had reflected his good-natured sense of devious fun, then it might have been a better movie, and a more fitting tribute to the lovingly cheesy TV series.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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