The A-Team

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s not even close. The latest 1980s pop-culture totems to be whittled down into kindling and fed to Hollywood’s ever-hungry furnaces are the chopsocky empowerment tale The Karate Kid (not reviewed here) and the action comedy television series The A-Team. Now, nobody is claiming that either film or tv show represent the pinnacle of 1980s cultural achievement but they were nevertheless phenomenally successful; the Karate Kid spawning three sequels, and countless childhood tooth-chips, while the five seasons of the A-Team are still shown at the outer reaches of cable television worldwide.

Audience familiarity is director Joe Carnahan’s most immediate advantage in his beefed-up version of The A-Team but even this rose-tinted remembering is soon exhausted in a ponderously complicated action adventure. Anyone who spent their twelve year-old Saturday evenings sitting too close to the television will recognise these characters: leader Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) still loves it when plans come together; his first lieutenant Face (Bradley Cooper) still flirts with the ladies, getaway driver BA Baracus (Quinton Jackson) still pities fools while helicopter pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is still nuts. The first part of The A-Team is concerned with establishing how the four came together, and how they became military outlaws – in other words, extending the story told in the television series memorably narrated, minute-long opening credits to about an hour.

After a twenty minute pre-credits introduction, a blur of bullets and bluster, the action switches to the US war in Iraq and a mission to stop a billion dollar counterfeiting scam organised by henchmen loyal to Saddam. The A-Team are called in by army specialist Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel) to find the crooks, who are also being trailed by the CIA (represented by the vulpine Patrick Wilson) and a secret division of privately hired mercenaries. When the plan goes awry, the team are accused of theft and must flee before regrouping to solve the mystery and clear their names.

And that’s about it for character and story. The rest of The A-Team is given over to elaborate set-pieces, third-degree pyrotechnics and robotic digital effects. “Overkill is underrated” Hannibal says, at one point, but not from where I’m sitting. Fireballs aside, Carnahan’s biggest innovation is to cross-cut between the team planning their various gunfights and getaways and said gunfight or getaway being carried out. This device, while fun at first, like the rest of the film soon tires. The film’s camp humour offers some meagre compensation, with much being made of the behemoth BA’s reluctance to get on a plane and a decent visual joke at the expense of the new 3D format. But for a script that has been in development for a decade, and has five credited screenwriters, we might have expected a little more. It all adds up to two hours of dangerous scrapes and daring escapes. Not too shabby, if you’re twelve.


squire23 said...

Kinda have to disagree with you here. Sometimes I think critics take their job too seriously. The A-Team is what is & makes no apologies for it. It's a no-brainer with a few good laughs & relatively some decent action. Why is that such a bad thing? It's not like Carnahan set out to make the next There Will Be Blood or Goodfellas or even the next Die Hard. He delivered what most people wanted. For that, I give the man credit. And at the end of the day, it was a fun show.

Nostalgia is the only real defining thing that makes films like Die Hard & Raiders of the Lost Ark the pinnacles of Comedy Action films that others aspire to. Release Die Hard to day & it'd be panned for the over-top acting & stereotyping. I love films, I appreciate the nuances of how photography can change a scene, how editing can change a film from a great film to a classic (see the greatest trailer of all-time: Alien) but sometimes I think people need to just take films as they are intended. This one - a no-brainer.

John said...

Hi Squire:

I don't have a problem with The A Team being mindless crap, but being crappy mindless crap. J

TONY said...

I don't know if you saw 'The Good Die Young' on Saturday on TV. Great actors - Stanley Baker, Laurence Harvey, Richard Basehart. I recall that Stanley Baker was in another heist movie in the late 50s/early 60s. I don't suppose you know what it was?