The summer movie season has a pulse after all.
It’s faint, but it’s getting a bit stronger this weekend, and you can thank “The A-Team” for that. After weeks of buzz-free new releases that failed to capture imaginations or substantial box office, the latest TV remake finally delivers what the multiplex has been sorely lacking: pure, unabashed fun.
Short on complexity and nuance but long on action and man-hugging, fist-pumping bro chemistry, “The A-Team” is like a theatrical brain-freeze. Director Joe Carnahan’s spirited re-imagining of the fondly remembered hit television show is so muscular, it should be randomly tested for HGH.
Fists fly, bullets are fired as if there was a 2-for-1 sale on ammo at Wal-Mart, and lots of things get blown up. Tons, even. A masterpiece? Not on your life. There are plot holes you could drive B.A.’s van through and leaps of storytelling faith that must be made to accept some of the preposterousness that unfolds onscreen (The picture’s opening scene with Hannibal making a narrow escape being a perfect example). But against all odds, it still works.
Instead of strictly adhering to the premise of the TV series, Carnahan and writing partners Brian Bloom and Skip Woods wisely went for a more modern spin, and avoided the campy tone of the series. These guys have a good time, but people actually get shot in this movie.
Instead of Vietnam, the guys are now serving in Iraq, in the present day. After nearly a decade of pulling off impossible missions, the A-Team (A for Alpha operatives) has earned quite a reputation. Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) is the tactician without peer, the man with a plan for any occasion; Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) is the guy who can find anything and con anyone; B.A. Baracus (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) is the driver and designated knockout punch, and ‘Howlin’ Mad’ Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is the genius pilot who’s also completely off his rocker.
The team is asked to retrieve a set of printing plates that terrorists are planning to use to print billions in fake U.S. currency. But things go wrong, they get blamed, and subsequently locked up in separate military prisons.
After the inevitable escapes, the team goes underground to seek revenge and clear their names. If this sounds a bit familiar, it should. It’s basically the same plot as “The Losers.” Just like that underappreciated action gem, “The A-Team” manages the rare feat of letting the main characters develop enough for the audience to actually care about them.
That’s right, it’s the character development that really makes “The A-Team” work.
[And on the list of sentences you expected to read in an A-Team review, where does that one rank?]
This is the kind of movie that reaffirms the importance of good casting. The four leads act as if they’ve been working together for years. That kind of chemistry is important in any ensemble film, but especially here.
Because the best thing about the television show was never the van or the action sequences, it was the friendship, the bond between the fellas. You believed they would do anything for each other, and that sense of brotherhood pops off the screen here.
Even the typically uptight Neeson loosens up and cracks a couple jokes as Hannibal. Jackson, the MMA champ, is the obvious greenhorn among the actors, and he has in many ways the toughest job. Once he stopped trying to imitate Mr. T’s mannerisms and speech patterns, Jackson did impressive work as the warrior with a soft side.
Even Jessica Biel, cast in the thankless female role in an action movie, makes the most of it as the military investigator chasing down The A-Team. Patrick Wilson gets a break from the nice guy roles he’s played in films like “Watchmen” and “Lakeview Terrace” to play Lynch, a shady CIA spook with unclear motives and a knack for verbal jousting.
The film could have made things easier on itself by streamlining the needlessly convoluted plot. And Hannibal’s plans are so absurdly intricate, Neeson can barely keep from laughing as explains it. The film’s biggest mistakes involved the execution of a few of the action sequences. When will modern filmmakers learn to stop being their own worst enemy by ruining action scenes with sloppy editing and excessive handicam shots?
Carnahan fared much better with the film’s big finish, one of the biggest onscreen explosions you’ll ever see. That scene, incidentally, is set at the Port of Los Angeles, which seems to be the ‘climactic scene’ location of choice for a number of recent films.
In the end, it’s all about the characters, and they’re having such a good time, it’s impossible not to join in. Copley and Cooper almost appear to be breaking kayfabe, laughing and bouncing lines off each other during the film’s most ridiculous and entertaining scene, the one with the parachuting tank. That hilariously implausible sequence is a perfect fit for a movie with no reservations, no shame and no apologies for what it is. It’s 117 minutes of escapist entertainment; check your brain at the door.
Somehow, despite nearly a dozen screenwriters and years of development problems, a remake of a campy 80s television series turns out to be just what this moribund movie season needed.
Not even the master planner Hannibal could have planned it any better.