Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, and Patrick Wilson
Runtime: 117 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
Ten years ago, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team.As part of Hollywood’s current obsession with pop-culture from the 1980s, a feature of the television show The A-Team seems reasonable given the basic premise, as described by the show’s intro voiceover above. There’s plenty of room for mindless action, and it’s a name-brand that audiences recognize—either from watching the show in its original run from 1983 to 1986, or in the syndicated reruns. Either way, director and co-writer Jo Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces) has assembled a cast with chemistry both in the leads and supporting players, and he fills his corny actioner with absurd stunts plausible only in a cartoon. Nevertheless, Carnahan’s movie works, although it’s crucial to disconnect your brain if you want enjoy this sort of loud, fast-and-loose hokum.
“I love it when a plan comes together.” That’s the prideful catchphrase by the A-Team’s leader, the silver-haired operational mastermind Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), and it loosely applies to the movie as well. In the opening scenes, Smith assembles a ragtag bunch of Army Rangers, who come together out of coincidence and luck, to form a team of backward bravados. Smith already has associations with the cocky point-man “Face” Peck (Bradley Cooper), but he randomly meets Mohawked muscle Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (Quinton Jackson, who happily doesn’t try to fill Mr. T’s shoes by saying “I pity the fool” but comes close) in the desert, and recruits the certifiably insane “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley) as the team’s pilot. Together, they’re a chummy bunch, endlessly laughing and riffing on one another. And after some years and countless successful missions together, they’re noted as being the military’s greatest single resource.
The plot sticks relatively close to the show, as after the team completes a covert op for General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) to secure stolen U.S. currency plates in Bagdad, they return only to be framed for Morrison’s murder, leaving them without proof as to the officialdom of their mission. After a court martial, they quickly break out of jail and make plans to find out who framed them. Could it be Face’s ex-girlfriend, Army Captain Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel), who seems to hold romantic grudges against her former lover? More likely that it’s the slippery CIA agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson), who’s not unlike Jason Patrick’s power-hungry CIA villain in The Losers from a few months ago (indeed, there are many similarities between these two movies). Or maybe it’s the mercenary squad Black Forest, led by the ruthless Pike (Brian Bloom), whose group is not dissimilar from the real-life private military outfit Blackwater.
As the plot unfolds, the breakneck editing makes some of the shaky action scenes less watchable than they should be, but they’re enhanced thanks to cross-cutting with Smith’s debriefing to the team where he explains his elaborate plans. This helps the viewer follow what the heck is going, because without his exposition, we might not understand. And then there are wild, impossible but enjoyable scenes where the team improvises—such as when they drop from an exploding airplane in a parachute-rigged tank, then use the blast power of the tank’s cannon to alter the course of their plunge to a nearby lake and lessen the impact of their water landing. Lots of varying locations from Mexico to Germany feature lots of loud explosions and rat-tat-tat gunfire. This is ridiculous stuff, but fun in a mindlessly escapist way.
Nearly every character is used as comic relief through friendly banter, except maybe the very watchable Neeson, who stays resolute with his character’s signature cigar-in-chops. But stealing the show is District 9’s Copley, since the South African actor manages to prove he’s capable of incredible range by landing several dead-on foreign accents, including his character’s southern-fried twang. Carnahan appears to have let his group of actors improvise onset, allowing the tone the movie to shift from actioner to action-comedy. Copley’s motormouthed role acts out in hilarious ways that don’t seem to be scripted, and it’s apparent by his costar’s faces that the other actors aren’t always prepared for his crazed, riotous behavior.
Filled with ballistic and cheesy action but enjoyable characterizations, The A-Team entertains and leaves the audience hoping for a sequel, if only to allow these characters to fall into the roles of the television show. In typical origin story schema, the plot of the movie doesn’t allow the A-Team to become soldiers of fortune yet, rather has them trying to clear their names. Although the conclusion comes with the above voiceover from the show, it would’ve been interesting to see them establish themselves as hired gun do-gooders from the underground. This quibble aside, the quick flash that is this movie’s brand of napalm-paced, gunpowdered spectacle has one agreeing with Hannibal’s assessment that “Overkill is underrated.”