Overkill is underrated – The A-Team review

The A-Team – Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Rated M. Originally published June 8, 2010. By Simon Miraudo.

Were people really screaming out for an A-Team movie? I don’t think they were. Fans of the show seem somewhat annoyed about their beloved TV characters being reimagined for the big screen, and all those teenage boys who supposedly make up the brunt of the cinema going audience don’t even know what an A-Team is. (Hint: They’re like a military version of those Avengers that you damn kids are so excited about). The A-Team brand name is probably even dustier and daggier than Star Trek before J.J. Abrams injected some life into it. I’ve never seen an episode of the show, and I only have the most basic understanding of characters and the key quotations. Therefore, I can’t speak to how faithful the film is to the source material (sorry old school A-Teamsters). Based on its own merits, The A-Team is a sweet little sugar cube of outrageous fun and almost unparalleled silliness. We may not have asked for it, but I’m thankful we’ve got it.

The film adaptation of The A-Team is indeed a reboot in the strictest sense, giving us a brand new origin for these eventual “soldiers of fortune”. The film begins with Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) serendipitously teaming up with fellow soldiers B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and Howling Mad Murdoch (Sharlto Copley) while trying to rescue playboy Lieutenant ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) from a cuckolded Mexican despot (needless to say, Face was attempting an “invasion” of his own). The mission is a resounding success, and the awesome foursome spend eight years as the military’s go-to-guys. However, in the final days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, a mysterious C.I.A. agent named Lynch (a brilliantly playful Patrick Wilson) enlists the dream team to recover some money-printing plates from the Iraqis. They succeed, obviously, but not before being double-crossed and sent to prison. Their time behind bars is short-lived. At this point, you can probably insert the TV show’s famous opening monologue and figure out the rest of the plot.

Director Joe Carnahan is famous for his gritty, kinetic style, not unlike that of Peter Berg. These two filmmakers share a lot of similarities, and that’s not exactly a good thing. They’re both big fans of the shakycam action sequence, even if they don’t have the Greengrass-esque chops to pull them off. They’re also clumsy storytellers (Berg’s Hancock might be the most muddled/misguided major blockbuster of the past five years, and Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces is practically incomprehensible). What makes Berg tiresome and Carnahan exciting however, is that Carnahan never takes himself too seriously. Smokin’ Aces – for all of its nonsensical plot twists and seemingly infinite number of characters – is insanely watchable; a colourful cornucopia of nutty, cartoon violence. The A-Team? Even more so. The plot makes a semblance of sense (already an improvement over Smokin’ Aces), and the action is wonderfully ridiculous, even if it betrays every law of physics imaginable. But hey, the film still takes place in a more realistic universe than that of Sex and the City 2!

Yes, planes are shot down mid-flight, and its crew escape by ejecting themselves out from within a tank. And no, that sentence isn’t supposed to make sense. Many of the team’s convoluted plans have about as much probability of success as someone attempting to swallow their car whole. But that’s the point (or rather, that’s the ‘joke’). Carnahan isn’t trying to get you to gasp in surprise; he’s trying to get you to laugh out of incredulity. The film is consistently surprising because it shows us things that no one would reasonably predict. It is fitting that the final action sequence literally features the A-Team setting off pyrotechnics. Big things go boom.

But expensive explosions only get you so far, and this film would be nothing without its talented cast. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley are a hoot. They’re winking along with us, but not so often that it becomes obnoxious. Neeson only solidifies his action-star credibility (as hilariously promised in Taken); Cooper continues to prove himself as the next big charismatic movie star; and Copley, the untrained actor who made an impressive debut in District 9, emerges as an exciting character actor (look out Sam Rockwell). The only disappointment is mixed martial artist Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in the role made famous by the inimitable (although often imitated) Mr. T. Hardly a master thespian himself, Mr. T. became a star thanks to his aggressive yet vulnerable charisma. And Jackson just don’t got it. He is a convincing bad ass, but he just can’t sell the dramatic moments like his co-stars. Also, he’s a little hard to understand. I imagine even the Duplass Brothers or fellow mumblecore auteurs would have cut Jackson during filming and said “Can we take that one more time? I couldn’t quite make out what you were saying there.”

For some reason, it seems that the team-up movie is back in fashion. We saw The Losers hit cinemas earlier this year, and we can look forward to The Expendables, X-Men: First Class, The Avengers, and multiple versions of The Three Musketeers over the coming months and years. The A-Team is hardly a benchmark, but if these future projects can promise just as much fun, then hopefully this becomes the fad to finally overthrow those pesky vampires. The A-Team gets the job done. The only losers here are gravity and logic, and frankly, they’ve had it too good for too long.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The A-Team arrives on DVD and Blu-ray October 27th.

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