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The A-Team

(2010) * 1/2 Pg-13
119 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Director: Joe Carnahan. Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel.

/content/films/3773/1.jpgCue the theme song: it’s another TV remake for the big screen. The title The A-Team refers to an “alpha unit” of elite Army Rangers, but the only thing top-of-the-line about Joe Carnahan’s stupefying action movie is the budget. That budget can buy you a star of the caliber of Liam Neeson, but it can’t make him do good work. As The A-Team’s fearless leader Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (played on the 1983-1987 NBC series by George Peppard), Neeson tries very hard to look as if he’s having fun, but I’m not buying it. The film’s elaborate opening sequence serves as the origin of the team, with partners Hannibal and inveterate womanizer Lt. “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) joining forces for the first time with aggro Sgt. Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (mixed martial arts fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) and certifiably insane Capt. H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copley of District 9), symbolically destroying the series’ signature black GMC van in the process.

Carnahan had a strong debut with the 2002 film Narc, but he showed his true colors with 2006’s loud and dumb Smokin’ Aces. The obnoxious The A-Team emulates the latter, with more explosions. The movie retains the basic premise of the TV show, with the team framed for theft and murder, dishonorably discharged, and incarcerated. Plan-loving Hannibal affects an escape, and the team operates off the grid, righting wrongs and seeking to clear its good names. It’s still escapist fare, though the series’ cartoon violence has become more graphic and the language a bit saltier. Added to the film’s mix are Jessica Biel (as an Army captain who melts over Face), Patrick Wilson (as an untrustworthy CIA agent), Brian Bloom (as the head of the A-Team’s Blackwater-style unfriendly competition), and Gerald McRaney as Hannibal’s friend-in-high-places General Morrison.

Screenwriters Carnahan, Bloom and Skip Woods operate mostly on auto-pilot, and matters only worsen when they misguidedly believe they have an opportunity in The A-Team to explore philosophy. Hannibal’s cigar-chomping catch-phrase “I love it when a plan comes together” becomes the seed of bizarrely monastic musings like “I don’t subscribe to coincidence. I believe that no matter how random things might appear, there’s still a plan.” The endless talk of plans grows especially bizarre when fool-pitying B.A.—having embraced non-violence—trades Gandhi quotes with Hannibal in an unintentionally funny ethical debate. (There’s also a hilarious implication that B.A. is a reverse Sampson, his Mohawk haircut the symbol of his strength.)

Otherwise, The A-Team is, to its detriment, a very modern action movie, defined by its disinterest in character, general tastelessness, and incoherent, whiplash-inducing photography and editing. A scene involving a “flying” tank suggests the kind of fun and loony action-adventure the movie might have been, but everything else in the picture is frantic without bringing the fun.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.}

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 12/14/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox loads up The A-Team on Blu-ray with a Blu-ray + Digital Copy set that includes the flick's Theatrical Version (119m) and a new Extended Version (134m), plus a host of bonus features. A/V quality is pretty darn close to perfection. The look of the film is highly stylized, in Carnahan's signature overheated style, and this transfer recreates the hues and textures down to the last pixel. Nicely detailed and accurately calibrated for black level and contrast, this is a sharp and nicely dimensional image. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix carefully prioritizes dialogue, which is a good thing considering the busy, noisy whole. This mix is definitely playing with power, with wraparound high-octane sound effects and impeccable discrete separation of elements in the soundscape.

Like WB's Maximum Movie Mode, Blu-ray exclusive The Devil's in the Details: Inside the Action with Joe Carnahan is a souped-up commentary with the film's director that includes behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards, animatics, model-building and visual-effects presentations, and an interactive dashboard with info on vehicles and weaponry, as well as a running counter of steps in each plan (at times, Carnahan's audio commentary gives way to video segments with the director as on-screen host for the supplementary video footage.

Also on hand are six "Deleted Scenes" (9:05, HD), the film's "Gag Reel" (7:19, HD) and a pointless "A-Team Theme Mash-Up Montage" (1:36, HD) of action clips from the feature, and the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:25, HD).

"Plan of Attack" (28:39, HD) is the one-stop making-of featurette, comprising set footage and interviews with Carnahan, Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, The A-Team creator Stephen J. Cannell, Jessica Biel, producer Jules Daly, Brian Bloom, producer Iain Smith, stunt coordinator Ben Bray, weapons coordinator Rob Fournier, Patrick Wilson, Maury Sterling, visual effects supervisor James E. Price, and production designer Charles Wood.

"Character Chronicles" (23:11 with "Play All" option, HD) include "Liam Neeson: When a Plan Comes Together," "Bradley Cooper: Fully Automatic," "On Set with Rampage Jackson," "On Set with Sharlto Copley," and "The B-Team," with interview clips of Carnahan, Neeson, Cooper, Jackson, Copley, Bray, assistant to Mr. Carnahan Evan Nicholas, camera operator Klemens Becker, Biel, Terry Chen, and director of photography Mauro Fiore.

"Visual Effects Before and After with Commentary by Visual Effects Supervisor James E. Price" (6:11, HD) allows Price to narrate effects reels.

In addition to the Digital Copy, there's a BD-Live Exclusive featurette: "Dressing Down" (3:11, HD) details the film's military costuming.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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