Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman reviews The A-Team
It's been a fairly weak 2010 summer movie season... Iron Man 2 was OK but didn't live up to the first film, Nightmare on Elm Street was mediocre at best, some folks liked Robin Hood (although it's not what I'd call summer movie fare), Get Him to the Greek had its moments but was no Hangover and despite trying hard, The Losers was, well, a loser. At least we had Kick-Ass...
So while there hasn't been anything that you could really call a summer popcorn movie home run, I'm here to tell you that The A-Team comes pretty darn close.
I'm sure most of you know that The A-Team was a kitschy action TV series that ran in the mid-1980s. It starred George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Shultz and Mr. T as an ex-special forces team falsely accused of a crime and on the run from the government. It featured over-the-top action and fight scenes which were defined by signature camera shots (Mr. T launching a body over the camera which filmed from below) and an emphatic lack of injuries despite the extreme nature of the stunts.
Many folks have fond memories of the show and may be predisposed to accusations of "you ruined my childhood" or "you're soiling the memory of a classic!" For those of you thinking that, I invite you to go back and watch an episode or two today, and then get back to me with your fresh reaction. Sure, it was fun. It was also completely cheesy and formulaic. When a filmmaker decides to approach a project like this he has two choices:
1. Go in a completely different direction (for example turn a serious TV show into a comedy or vice versa).
2. Be as faithful to the spirit of the original as is practical.
With The A-Team, director Joe Carnahan went with a whole lot of #2 and just a touch of #1.
Unexpectedly, the film opens before the team has assembled, with only Hannibal (a cigar-chomping Liam Neeson) and "Face" (the studly and often shirtless Bradley Cooper) knowing each other and working together. During an operation in Mexico they meet B.A. Baracus (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) and Murdock (District 9's Sharlto Copley).
Unlike the opening scene in The Losers, which tried to establish a connection between the characters as well as between them and the audience (and failed miserably), the first 15 minutes or so here do it admirably. Once it's done, it'll remind you of a very extended James Bond opening sequence - a way to transition you into the film. Immediately we "get" Hannibal, Face, Murdock and even Baracus after each of their introductory scenes, and it doesn't take long to cement the relationships via great chemistry and snappy dialog.
After the initial meetings (with a number of great action scenes right off the bat), we cut to eight years later, nearing the end of American troops being stationed in Iraq. The "Alpha Team" members have been the go-to guys to get the really tricky and nigh-impossible missions done. Right here is where the story gets a bit muddled, with Army Captain Sosa (Jessica Beil) arriving to tell Face (with whom she has "history") very explicitly to not go on a mission to Bagdhad to retrieve stolen plates for the printing of U.S. dollars. The concern of course is that terrorists will be able to print billions of dollars of "unbacked" currency (like our currency is currently backed? But I digress...). She is tasked with retrieving the plates using a private mercenary outfit called Black Forest.
Hannibal has no confidence or respect for them and a CIA operative plays into that lack of confidence, wanting the A-Team to retrieve the plates instead of Black Forest. Hannibal convinces the on-site General (Gerald McRaney), who is an old friend, to let them go on the mission.
Hannibal concocts an insanely over-the-top plan that of course goes off without a hitch (and gives us the next crazy action set piece), but in the aftermath things go wrong via a doublecross and the team is falsely accused and convicted of being involved in the theft of the plates. The members of the team are all shipped off to different high security military prisons. Of course Hannibal vows to make those who really stole the plates pay and to recover them, and with the help of the CIA operative (who you KNOW has his own agenda, of course) he breaks out and gets his comrades out of prison (Murdock's escape was particularly funny).
The combined escape brings us to the scene you've seen in the trailer with a tank falling from the sky with a parachute and Face shooting a 50 cal gun. I'm here to tell you that scene is crazy-awesome. :)
From there it's all about getting to the bottom of exactly who is behind all this, where the leader of Black Forest is and how to retrieve the plates and deliver them to the Federal government in order to clear their names.
Are there things to complain about with the film? Sure. Shakey-cam. It's not "deep" or "complex," the third act bogs down a bit and is somewhat convoluted with a final action sequence where the director seems to have said "We have to make this big. No, you don't understand, I mean BIG. HUGE. MEGA-GIGANTIC," and frankly I thought it was a bit much. I thought Biel's character's motivation was pretty damned weak, but they try to have it make some sense later on (not very successfully). Oh, and as far as her acting... she's REALLY gorgeous.
But you know what?
This movie was FUN.
I found myself grinning through much of it and laughing out loud more than once. There was plenty of action, the chemistry between the characters was great and I thought representative of the original series, Liam Neeson was an excellent Hannibal and Sharlto Copley was fantastic as Murdock. Bradley Cooper was fine as Face - he'll appeal to the ladies in the audience, especially with his gratuitous shirtless scenes. And I'm going to say it: I thought Quinton Jackson did an OK job as B.A. Baracus. It's not a terribly complex role, and I'm sorry but Mr. T wasn't exactly doing Shakespearean acting during his stint in the role. Oh, and I really enjoyed Brian Bloom as Pike, the leader of Black Forest. Acted like he came right off the set of Goodfellas.
There aren't a lot of movies that you can actually label as "fun," but if there is any genre (if you can call it a genre) that SHOULD fit that label it's summer action movies. Sadly, not a lot of those films actually earn that label despite trying overtly to attain it. Star Trek was another film to which I'd apply that label. I'd say last year's The Hangover as well (which also starred Cooper).
For the parents out there, while there is some violence that's definitely PG-13 in the film, much of it is "cartoony" and played for laughs (ending is a little rough, I don't think I'd bring kids under 8 or 10). The only nudity to speak of is a shirtless Cooper. I only mention this because Mr. T has been complaining about the violence and nudity in the film.
While some are bashing The A-Team, I give it an unabashed recommendation as a fun summer popcorn movie.
Here's another look at the trailer for the film to help you decide.