Ken vs. The A-Team

When I think of latter-day Liam Neeson movies, I think of a line Steve Martin used in Bowfinger to justify filming a guerilla movie around an unwitting and paranoid action star (played by Eddie Murphy): “Tom Cruise didn’t know he was in that vampire movie for two years!” Just so with Neeson. I do not believe Taken or The A-Team are movies, exactly; I think a crew just followed Neeson around and recorded his day-to-day activities.

Or maybe that’s just his value to movies like this one. Something about Neeson’s presence—the grave, wise voice, the unflinching stare—makes him, if not an everyman, at least a guy you can trust. Instinctively you believe him, whether he’s neck-chopping bad dudes in France or using the Force to cheat at a game of dice.

The A-Team needs his presence. It’s a movie that is exactly what it appears to be: dumb, moderately fun, full of crazy action and occasionally plausible master plans that conflate extreme luck with cleverness. It’s also a movie that trusts its audience as far as it can throw it: There are three callbacks to previous scenes in the film’s final reel, and two of those, spaced but minutes apart, call back to the same scene. Does that tell you something? I think that should tell you something.

Here are the motions: The A-Team is a ragtag band of four Army Rangers who specialize in doing the absolutely impossible. They are B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) the brawler, Murdock (Sharlto Copley) the crazy pilot, Face (Bradley Cooper) the con man, and Neeson as Hannibal, the tough and brilliant leader who, as he says many times lest you forget, loves it when a plan comes together.

The A-Team is betrayed by a band of Blackwater-style nasties and, after getting thrown in jail, they bust right back out and get their revenge. They are sometimes pursued and sometimes aided by Face’s ex, a Department of Defense intelligence officer (Jessica Biel). Biel’s stuck with the thankless task of always being one step behind Our Heroes and not enjoying any of it, but at least she’s written as smart. Most women in these kinds of movies can’t even say that much.

The rest is not worth remarking on. The movie’s remaining 90 minutes will by obvious to you by the end of the first 30, but no one’s here for surprises or revelations. They want to see the boys crack jokes, shoot guns and throw punches. They want to see the sexy girl in tight clothes. They want to see explosions and action parceled out in a formula as rigid and formalized as any romantic comedy. There was much ado about the irresponsible, brainless pleasure-stroking of Sex and the City 2, but the truth is summer movie houses are chock full of that shit every single Friday; the only difference is that these exercises in escapist fantasy are usually made for men. We’re simply so inundated with “mindless fun” for dudes that we never stop to ask if months-long binges on empty movie calories are doing us any favors.

Look, The A-Team is fine as these things go, but I’m going to be honest with you: If I didn’t have a Friday deadline to fill I wouldn’t have bothered . . . and I sure as hell wouldn’t have paid for it. (If nothing else, this year’s quota of witty action guys doing witty action things was already filled—and better—by The Losers.) You know how the movie goes, I know how the movie goes, and in two months we’ll all have forgotten about it. You can do better.

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