Film Friday: ‘The A-Team’ and ‘The Karate Kid’

by W. Andrew Powell

A scene from The A-Team

A scene from The A-Team

Despite the shame associated with the Eighties for the last twenty-plus years, that era of moustaches and spandex is kind of hot again, especially if you have plans to go see a new movie this weekend.

Opening at a theatre near you, franchise dreams are riding high with the remakes of The A-Team, starring Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson, and The Karate Kid, with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan.

Here’s a look at what you can expect from these two very different trips down memory lane.

The A-Team
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Quinton Jackson
Director: Joe Carnahan

Rated: 7/10

When I was growing up there were very few things that were as cool as The A-Team. This somewhat violent, but entirely family-friendly show is probably one of my most vivid memories from childhood. Even if I can’t recall a single episode from beginning to end, The A-Team was simply a lot of fun, and if you wanted to spend a good hour with the television, there was hardly anything more entertaining, at least for boys my age.

Jump ahead to 2010 and expectations were pretty mixed for director and co-writer Joe Carnahan’s big screen adaptation of what many might call somewhat hallowed ground. The good news is that Carnahan apparently knew a little bit about what he was doing, because this new A-Team will leave fans with a smile on their face, wanting more.

Liam Neeson stars as Hannibal, the tough but wise leader of a small group of U.S. Special Forces do-gooders who are called in when no one else can do the job. These former soldiers include the ladies man, Face (Bradley Cooper), tough guy B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson), and the resident weirdo pilot, Murdock (Sharlto Copley).

Starting out when the group randomly came together in Mexico, The A-Team really jumps into gear when they are sent, some time later, on a high-profile mission to secretly retrieve a case of stolen printing plates that could be used to make piles of American money.

Little does the team know, however, that someone has set them up, and when they triumphantly return with the plates, and a crate of fake cash, the only man who knew about their mission is killed, and the plates are snatched up by a team of mercenaries.

Looking like the villains, the A-Team is on their way to a dishonourable discharge, and some serious prison time. The only answer is for them to find a way to escape prison, take down the person who set them up, and clear their names.

Carnahan and Brian Bloom’s script is honestly nothing magical–it feels like a lot of other action movies–but The A-Team is everything a summer popcorn movie should be. It’s funny, clever, filled with great one-liners, and pimped out with action sequences that are almost always intensely entertaining, including one scene where they try to “fly” a tank.

Carnahan’s direction, and his cast, saves what is otherwise a mediocre script, making The A-Team a good movie, just shy of being something great.

Given the opportunity, I would definitely turn out for a sequel, and I expect the film will earn enough to warrant that, but it’s unfortunate that Carnahan was on the verge of a truly great summer blockbuster, and missed it by a few key scenes, including the ending. Carnahan was the right choice for this reboot, I don’t doubt that, but his ending reeks of bad special effects, stale tricks, and a weak resolution that just doesn’t pay off.

As a grown-up kid, who lived and breathed the A-Team, this was far more satisfying than your average remake though, and it paves the way for what could be a comically cool new franchise.

The Karate Kid
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han
Director: Harald Zwart

Rated: 6.5/10

From Harald Zwart, the director who made Agent Cody Banks and One Night at McCool’s comes the long awaited, long feared, Karate Kid remake.

Starring Jaden Smith as 12-year-old Dre Parker, our modern day Daniel, and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han, AKA Mr. Miyagi, the new Karate Kid is set in China as Dre and his mother, played by Taraji P. Henson, move to the country to start anew.

Following the course of the original story closely, the new Karate Kid finds trouble soon with some local tough kids who really know how to fight. When Dre gets beaten up, and roughed up again at school, it’s Mr. Han who jumps in and saves the day and promises to teach the boy Kung-Fu so he can honourably defend himself.

The film spends the prerequisite time introducing Dre’s trainer, training, and his enemies, all firmly rooted in China’s camera-friendly streets. While this is rote stuff, often copied wholesale from the original film, or other similar stories, the cast works hard to make this a fresh story.

Smith and Chan have great chemistry together, and in fact, Smith is a great lead for this part, bringing a fair level of sweetness to all of his scenes. Dre’s young romance with Meiying, played by Wenwen Han, is also well-played, but Smith really excels when it comes to the action.

Fresh-faced screenwriter Christopher Murphey provides a decent script for Zwart and the cast, but it’s frankly a shadow of the original, which was sweeter and more compelling. This new Karate Kid is fun, and the film pushed all the right buttons as Dre went into the tournament at the end, but it just didn’t move me the way it should have.

Smith and Chan share one of the few emotionally-charged scenes in the film, which comes close to the end, and it’s a great moment for Chan as an actor, but somehow it still doesn’t come close to anything we saw between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita back in 1984. It also feels like a cheap complaint, but I don’t really understand why there was no Karate in The Karate Kid.

My other big complaint is that it’s frankly weird watching these twelve-year-old kids fight each other, whether it’s staged or not. Dre and his villains all perform well with their stunts, but it looks very wrong seeing them bully and attack each other, even in the tournament.

Since Sony is likely pushing to make this into a brand new franchise again, I’m sure the young casting was to ensure they can keep Smith around for a number of years, but I would caution some parents that the film might be a notch more violent than you expect. For some reason, when the action involves adults, or even older teenagers, it’s easier to dismiss this kind of violence, but I had a hard time doing the same here for kids who are not even teenagers.

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