Director – Joe Carnahan
Starring – Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Wilson, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copely, Jessica Biel, Gerald McRaney, Brian Bloom, Henry Czerny, John Hamm
Written by – Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods
Of course I avoided The A-Team this summer when it came out, and I am still glad I didn’t take the time to see it in the theater. If I had ignored seeing the extended edition on DVD, I may never have known it, but I would have missed something worth watching. There is a definite attention in this film to little things, like plot. More than that, however, there is attention to that which every red-blooded American male desires to be part of: big, mindless, action.
Everyone knows the story, a team of four wrongfully convicted, looking to clear their name. Starting with their coming together in a mission gone awry (is there any other?) in Mexico, we see the advent of the mixture of chaos and coördinated effortlessness that was the trademark of the original series. Instead of shooting millions of bullets and missing everybody, however, they shoot half a million, hit a few people (trying to stay PG-13) and let people die.
I have to be honest and disclose that I really hated the original show. I thought the characters stretched believability to the extreme. I could handle the screwball action. I knew TV would not allow much more than what we saw there. The characters, however, were badly drawn and not any better acted (except the great one note Mr. T). I loved a lot of Stephen J. Cannell shows, like Adam-12, Hardcastle and McCormick, The Greatest American Hero, Riptide and one of my all time favorites, The Rockford Files.
Miracle of miracles, however, the producers of the film, including Ridley and Tony Scott, found Joe Carnahan and his writing partner, Brian Bloom along with Skip Woods. After initially flirting with the idea of John Singleton to direct and Ice Cube to play B.A. Baracus. While that would have been interesting, what resulted was very solid, if not spectacular.
This version gives the team real growth on-screen. While it’s only a semblance of depth, it counts for something. The team moves from Mexico eight years forward and 80 successful missions, leading to being in Iraq just before the pullout from Bush’s war. The team is led into an impossible mission at the suggestion of a CIA Special Agent “Lynch” (Wilson) and their General Morrison (McRaney). They are successful in their mission, but immediately ambushed by Bloom’s mercenary force upon their return. This gets them arrested tried and wrongfully convicted.
That the movie takes it’s subject matter more seriously than the TV show was a good move by the producers. Still, they are not so serious that it becomes an unintentional joke. This movie is over the top, but not in the Sylvester Stallone kind of way. None of the actors are shown to be supermen, and the bad guys have some teeth. The special effects scenes pay tribute to and still blow the TV show out of the water. Carnahan knows how to play big, while still packing a lunch box.
Some other improvements in the movie version:
- Sharlto Copely as Murdock. They took a mostly worthless character in the original and salvaged any of his potential
value with the wonderful lead from District 9. His timing is better and his performance is much more organic.
- B.A.’s decision to become a pacifist would have been a little hammy had it not been for Quinton Jackson’s humble performance. No one could have replaced Mr. T., and it is good that they did not really try.
Bradley Cooper as Face is a much more energetic character than was Dirk Benedict. The smarm is still there, but it is married to a much more intense and passionate person. He was fun to watch.
- Neeson as Hannibal makes it a true 4 person team. Peppard was more of a mascot, physically unable to match anyone with any presence on the screen. His awful wig aside, it’s nice to see that he can mix it up a bit.
- Bloom and Wilson make great antagonists, smugly confident, intimidating and resilient. The scene in the limo is funny and gives a manic intensity needed for well drawn bad guys.
- The characters really seem to absorb the hits and bad falls. Baracas fall of some 20 feet should have been painful, and it looks so.
- The aerial scenes are played efficiently, hiding the digital camera work with timely cuts. The flying tank scene is absolutely astounding. I haven’t seen anything that corny in concept pulled out so believably, and comically.
- The dock scene is almost a bridge too far, but it looked good enough because again, Carnahan moves the action along without lingering, but not giving you epilepsy with a thousand quick cuts.
The movie is predictable, but it tries to be clever enough. Jessica Biel is average as the straight-laced cop, always there just a few seconds late. The A-Team is a touch above average, but well worth your time on a Saturday evening with the family.
(*** out of *****)