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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The A-Team: Overkill is Underrated?

“Overkill is underrated.”

The above line is spoken to Liam Neeson’s character in the final third of The A-Team, a reboot/reimagining/remake/redo/reinvention/adaptation of the television show. I’m willing to bet that Joe Carnahan, the director of The A-Team, kept that line in the film as a bit of a self-reflexive joke since his film is all about overkill. But it got me to thinking about the idea of that line and its self-reflexivity: is overkill in the movies actually underrated?

Of course, the answer is no. Most movies you will see this summer have the same motto and will believe that too much is never enough. In other words, it’s not exciting enough to merely have a few scenes where our heroes hijack a plane or a helicopter and have drones firing missiles at them while one of them hangs out of the chopper and nearly plunges to his death. No, what we need is to have an army tank fall out of the chopper with parachutes attached while one of the men fires at the drones from the turrets. It’s all about topping the last action scene rather than trying to outdo other films in terms of story or characterization.

I was entertained by The A-Team, I’ll say that much. It moved quick and it was loud enough to keep me awake. But I’ve seen this movie before about a hundred times in various forms. There is not an original beat or character, it’s a paint by numbers flick. But, like many summer films these days, it seems to confuse stimuli with stimulation. Just because my eyes are drawn to the explosions on the screen does not mean that I am being moved by the images I’m seeing. Film is, indeed, a visual medium, but it’s also an aural and emotional and mental one as well. To focus your cinema solely on what images the camera can capture is to miss out on many of the other facets of what movies can offer.

The argument that is always made with summer films is this: “It’s mindless fun, just shut off your brain and enjoy yourself for two hours.” Which is basically another way of saying that overkill is underrated. Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t “shut off” my brain, it tends to keep running even when I tell it not to. So, when I see a film that defies not only the logic of the real world, but of the world that it creates, how do I tell my brain to ignore that? More importantly, if my brain recognizes that I’ve seen every beat of a movie before in different iterations, how do I tell my brain to pretend like it’s seeing something new and exciting? I have difficulty trying to fathom how someone can see these loud, dumb summer movies over and over again and not seeing a pattern emerge.

Here’s how it goes: set-up characters in a facile way, giving them all certain jobs and quirks that will define them for the rest of the film. Then, have them go on a mission in which they are double-crossed, but the villain will remain elusive despite the fact that we have a pretty good idea of who it might be. Have the heroes turn the tables on the villain and set-up a plan that will trap them and vindicate the heroes and thus setting up a large action scene – preferably at a dock or an abandoned warehouse. During this action scene, there will be large-scale destruction of public property, one of the heroes will be injured or killed, and there will be a long drawn-out fight scene where the hero will be beaten to within an inch of his life before somehow finding the strength to either a) kill the villain or b) ensnare the villain and expose his villainous ways. Then, quick scene setting up a potential sequel.

I’ve just saved you about a thousand dollars because now you’ll never have to see another summer movie again.

Of course, I’m being hyperbolic. And clearly I can’t take my own advice, since I did in fact pay to see The A-Team. And like I said earlier, I derived some enjoyment out of my time in the theater. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I’m a movie addict, so it’s like the equivalent of someone going to McDonald’s; you know it’s not good for you, that it’s going to taste the same today as it did yesterday, it has no nutritional value whatsoever, but it fills your stomach and it goes down easy. Well, that’s what summer movies are. The problem is, like with McDonald’s, if you eat too much of it, you start to feel pretty sick. Overkill on McDonald’s is certainly not underrated.

Since I started this column, I’ve often said that I will watch anything that comes out because I think it’s important to a) see what other people are watching and b) even the worst movies have something to teach us, even if that lesson is simply not to see that movie again. So here’s what I learned from watching The A-Team:

1) Bradley Cooper is a star. The dude is charismatic and easy to root for. If I’m a Hollywood executive, then I keep throwing star parts at him until something sticks. What I like about Cooper is that he makes interesting choices within the parts he plays, often inviting the audience to dislike him, but confident enough in his charms that he can win them back. It reminds me of Clooney before he really hit it big. I don’t know that Cooper has the depth that Clooney has or if he has the ability to carry a drama, but I know that I’d be willing to find out.

2) I like Sharlto Copley. I was not crazy about District 9, but I admired what Copley brought to it. And in The A-Team, he steals almost every scene with his manic energy. The only problem is that he’s not in the film nearly enough, often relegated to the background as an after-thought.

3) Joe Carnahan is exactly the director we thought he was and it shouldn’t be so surprising that he’s directing films like this just because his first one – Narc – was an indie flick. I could have told you from watching Narc that eventually Carnahan would wind up directing big-budget action flicks. His first film is so good because a low-budget means that you have to be inventive; when you have a ton of money, you focus less on character and more on tanks falling out of the sky. Carnahan is working with a bigger budget and is therefore less inventive. It’s not rocket science.

4) Liam Neeson’s late-career resurgence as an action hero is surprising, but not altogether unpleasant. He looks like he’s having fun in his role as Hannibal Smith in The A-Team and it looked like he was having a good time being the badass in Taken. I think these roles suit him well, but I’d still rather see him play Lincoln in Spielberg’s biopic that will probably never happen.

5) I’ve given her enough chances now and I’m comfortable saying that Jessica Biel is not a serious actress. If you look at her filmography, it’s really hard to find a film where she’s even trying to do something a little bit outside the box other than Rules of Attraction eight years ago. I had hopes for her when I heard she was starring in David O. Russell’s new film, but it looks as though that film, Nailed, might never see the light of day. It’s a shame because I think she’s got a certain magnetism that, if utilized correctly, could result in a powerful performance. But so far, haven’t seen it.

I suppose the biggest lesson I’ve learned from The A-Team is that overkill is actually overrated. And it’s not just overrated by every director who decides to make a big summer film, but it’s overrated by the audiences that flock to see films just because they have guns and explosions. The audience I was with ate up every corny line and every action scene like they’d never seen a movie before. And despite the fact that its opening weekend has been deemed a failure, The A-Team was still able to rake in about twenty-five million bucks. I’m terrible at math, but it means that millions of people in the US decided they wanted to see this film. And as long as millions of people want to see films that they’ve seen before, I’m going to have to write columns like this one.

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon