Thursday, June 10, 2010

The A-Team VS The Karate Kid

It's the battle of the 80's re-imaginations!! The ultimate team of anti-terrorist titans vs the pint sized, kick-ass Kung Fu kid who should actually be doing Karate! THE BATTLE IS ON!!!

The A-Team - Part MacGuyver..part elite military fighting force. The A-Team is back, this time on the big screen with a sort of prequel origin story that segways into something mirroring the pre-show back story of the disgraced team that now dodges johnny law and does good deeds when they are called upon. Director Joe Carnahan knows his way around an action film, keeping an excellent pace riddled with witty exchanges between his new A Team that never get old or annoying. Fighting for the top spot of "craziest motherfucker" and by default, most enjoyable to watch, would be Face (Bradley Cooper) and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) who are given the funniest bits, naturally. Coming in third, oddly, is Liam Neeson's Hannibal who remains extremely likably with a sort of dry humor that isn't exactly straight man to the pair of WOO HOOing goofballs. Neeson carves out his own personality within the group while retaining the core elements of the original show's character..not an easy task! Even though he's given ample screen time and some memorable stunts, painfully forced character nuances keep our new school Mr T from achieving greatness and pure FUN. To make matters worse, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson delivers his lines with the care and plotting of a Charlie Brown character or Tommy "Tiny" Lister in The 5th Element. This was always an insane bit of miscasting, but I honestly thought the WHOLE movie was going to be a train wreck. Color me surprised! B.A.Baracus remains cohesive among the crew as they crack successful jokes and fall out of the sky on more than one occasion. He is likeable...just not Mr. T likable!

I'll always say FOX missed a golden opportunity to make a poster with the tank falling out of the sky with Face on the guns and the tag line "You'll Believe A Tank Can Fly."

On the flip side of all this funny amid pulse pounding action is the bad guy collection, whom I won't name specifically since we aren't supposed to know they are bad guys until specific events unfold in the story. Once again, we have an excellent action film that could have shot itself in the foot by not having a super evil bad guy you really hate. Much like The Losers, our classic John McClane nemesis is traded in for a somewhat likable, constantly wisecracking evil "genius" who practically stops the film to perform comedy bits with his henchmen. This falls just short of intolerable and will surely illicit a groan or two from your fellow movie goers. Just be BAD for fucks sake!!! On a side note, I'll mention that since the A-Team were so funny and the bad guys slightly less funny, this left Jessica Biel and her team as the straight men for 90% of the movie. Credit to the film makers for not cashing on on Biel's sex appeal by finding a reason to get her into her underwear, but what we are left with is a cookie cutter "determined policeman" type character that could have been played by anyone. Odd. And I miss her undies. I hope to see them again soon.

Another blow to the movie's crackerjack timing are the constant flashbacks, shown so often I'm convinced the editor thought the core audience for this film are on the slow side. YOU SEE THAT THERE?? HE GAVE HER A PHONE!! ..and then the voice over of Face man goes "hold onto this" as if to suggest he wanted her to..maybe...hold onto it. YEESH. Despite these relentless "you see what we did there?" moments, The A Team still comes out a killer action movie with above average CGI effects, NEW tricks I've personally never even seen before, leaving me to pick my jaw up off the floor, and a laugh nearly every 5 to 10 minutes. This is the summer movie you hoot and holler at, applauding and laughing right up to the closing credits. Thanks for bringing the FUN back to my movie going experience!!

NOTE: Stay after the credits if you want to have old school A-Team flash backs!

The Karate Kid - Be warned, this is not the goofy coming of age story you remember. Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is uprooted and dropped in the middle of China with no advance cultural studies or much knowledge of the language. Befriending a young female violin player only gets him a fist to the face from the school bully squad, lead by a wide eyed, Kung Fu wielding psychotic who will remind you of a tiny little Bolo Yeung! These opening moments before Dre's inevitable bonding with Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) are very slow and quiet. Clowning and one liners are kept to a minimum, giving the initial exchanges a very thoughtful indie movie vibe. You'll quickly discover this is more a serious drama than the mostly light hearted original. Jaden Smith proves he's got the acting chops to pull it off and remain sympathetic while not going full on emo, but the tone is still unexpected.

Before long, Dre is taken under Mr.Han's wing as we trade the "wax on wax off" exercises for jacket on, jacket off, as it was taught for generations by the Shao Lin Monks. (I kid) Yes, its true he is learning Kung Fu, and NOT the Japanese fighting style known as KARATE..which would have made him The KARATE Kid. It's just something you'd have to accept before even sitting down in the theater. If the cultural mis-step offends you, don't go. As it stands, you'll see more genuine Asians in this movie than you will the upcoming Last Airbender film, which is supposed to take place on a PLANET of Asian people. ~sigh~ ..but I digress. Dre wanders through the film with a sort of blank faced wonder before the beauty of China as if we were watching a travel documentary, learning about the people, culture and most importantly..KUNG FUUU!! Amid the pretty, Dre develops his love interest with the little violin girl. There's little chemistry in these exchanges, but we'll give them a break since we are talking about little kids, a fact that the film makers abandon at one point when the mood gets..shall we say..uncomfortable. You'll know the scene when it hits and scratch your head, wondering why it is even in the film.

So Dre and Mr.Han form a close bond while training for the promised Kung Fu face off in the film's finale, all the while showing they are spectacular actors capable of genuine depth. This movie may not be the fun multi-cultural romp I remember, but it certainly holds its own as a serious, well executed drama. Some films reveal an ending that redeems an entire film. The Karate Kid pulls out a stunt that would practically make the little animated head of M Night Shyamalan pop up and scream "WHAT A TWEEEST!!" Why they chose to end a very real, touching film with a hugely unrealistic, over the top moment is beyond me..but what's done is done. If you were coming to The Karate Kid to see Jackie Chan and Jaded Smith shout Wax On, Wax Off and any number of classic lines from the original film, you've come to the wrong place. If you are ready to sit down and watch a new drama about a boy overcoming his fears with the help of a man whose heart seems beyond repair, then you'll leave with a smile on your face.

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