The A-Team & Knight and Day

What do The A-Team and Knight and Day have in common? Quite a lot, actually. Both are produced by 20th Century Fox, a studio who did so well out of the extraordinary success of Avatar that if they released nothing but flops for a year, their balance sheet will still be firmly in the black. (We shall return to this.) Both are big summer blockbusters, loosely speaking action films but with a sufficiently generous dose of comedy to (hopefully) ensure a regular stream of laughs. Both feature big stars (Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper in The A-Team, Cruise and Diaz in Knight and Day) with quirkier supporting actors (Sharlto Copley and Patrick Wilson in The A-Team, Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Dano in Knight and Day). Both are globe-trotting adventures with elaborate action scenes taking place in European locales (Austria and Spain in Knight And Day, Germany in The A-Team). Both are solidly entertaining, three out of five star, pictures, but the suspicion lingers both should and could have been better.

The A-Team seems like such an obvious film to make that it’s a surprise it has taken so long to reach the screens. Based on the extraordinarily popular TV series, it does a fairly good job of sidestepping the extraordinarily camp aspects of Mr T’s subsequent career as a Snickers hawker and ‘a manly man’. The iconic central figures, mastermind Hannibal Smith (Neeson), smoothie Face (Cooper), certified nutcase Murdock (Copley, best known for his fantastic performance in District 9) and, of course, BA Baracus (here embodied by Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) are all present and correct, and the faintly convoluted storyline follows them from their initial formation, in a clever, funny and exciting pre-credits sequence, through an involvement with an elaborate scam in Iraq involving corrupt CIA agents, mercenaries and Face’s ex, Captain Sosa (Jessica Biel), to their false imprisonment, escape and subsequent attempt to clear their names. It’s entertaining, occasionally slyly witty (check out the ‘3D show’ of The Greater Escape in an asylum Murdock is incarcerated in), about half an hour too long, has no character development whatsoever and is instantly forgettable. Joe Carnahan, who has some slight pedigree as an action director after Smokin’ Aces, co-ordinates the mayhem with a certain panache.

Knight And Day is more problematic. As it stands, it’s fine, but it could have been better. Directed by James Mangold, who made the excellent 3.10 To Yuma and the pretty good Copland and Walk The Line, the film bears every single sign of having been put together by many, many different hands at script and production stage. The central idea is an absolutely excellent one – a bored, frustrated single woman, June (Diaz) finds herself embroiled with potentially insane superspy Roy Miller (Tom Cruise), who claims that he is being hunted by his former employers as he has obtained a source of perpetual energy. The scene would appear to be set for North by Northwest from a female perspective, with tension and humour in equal measure.

Unfortunately, what spoils it is the way in which Cruise, rather than play on his increasingly outre public persona as a couch-jumping maniac, is essentially just reprising Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible series all over again. Promising early scenes – such as a punch-up on a plane where everyone apart from June and Miller die, brutally – soon give way to standard-issue heroics, some of which are amusing and impressive, such as a climatic Seville-set motorcycle chase involving a bull run, but really this ends up being yet another buddies-on-the-run action film, devoid of the big twists and revelations that might have made this a really enjoyable ride.

The connection between both films is that neither has done especially well at the box office. In the case of Knight And Day this has been blamed on a confusing ad campaign that implied nobody at Fox had any idea how to sell the film to the audience – action? comedy? something else entirely? – and in The A-Team’s case, it implies that the sub-25 audience for whom the film was clearly made had little interest in turning out for it. Still, if both films are ultimately inessential, they’re goofily entertaining in their way, amiable time-passers and far less offensive than the likes of Transformers 2 or Sex And The City 2. I can’t see either spawning a sequel.


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