I was all set to make excuses for the
unremarkable action of The A-Team on the grounds that it is harmless;
but nothing that occupies two hours of your life for no particular reason
can be written off as just "harmless." The A-Team requires little discussion,
little description, and is best enjoyed on a beer-infused Saturday afternoon.
It's a well-cast retread, souped up with some outrageous pyrotechnics
and a plot that tries to be twisty and topical. Given the film's
source, it was never going to be a classic. But it works as a
tribute or remake of the series, capturing the fuck-it-all playfulness
of '80s action, and director Joe Carnahan works hard to maintain our
interest with a solid visual sense and absurd but well-handled set pieces.
The actors enjoy themselves, too, which helps us have a good time even
when we're rolling our eyes (which is often).
Stephen J. Cannell's hyper-destructive
group of mercenaries is recast as a ragtag bunch of Army Rangers who
get caught up in a scheme to recover plates from a mint used by Saddam
Hussein to counterfeit American currency. Amid inter-agency bickering,
the plan is thwarted by an evil group of military contractors (read:
Blackwater), who seize the plates and kill the operation's authorizing
general (Gerald McRaney). And here comes the ol' frame-up, disgracing
our heroes, who are stripped of their ranks and thrown in prison.
A shady CIA operative known as Lynch (Patrick Wilson) comes to their
"rescue," however, with an offer to arrange for each of the
four to escape from prison if they promise to recover the stolen plates.
Seeing an opportunity to avenge his friend, the murdered general, Hannibal
Smith (Liam Neeson) agrees to the scheme and helps break Faceman (Bradley
Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson), and Murdoch
(Sharlto Copley) out of their respective correctional facilities.
The characterizations are fairly consistent
with the personalities we came to know through the original series.
Neeson's Hannibal is grizzled and weathered, chomps cigars, and tosses
off occasional one-liners, although he does so with less mugging and
bravado than George Peppard. Cooper's Faceman is a bastion of
self-confidence and baseless charm, marginally winning us over with
his sheer disregard of all danger and protocol. Copley musters
a passable "Southern" accent and exhibits what appears to
be a strong improvisational ability as the loose cannon Murdoch.
As B.A. Baracus, Jackson is the weak link. He lacks the
charisma and ferocity of Mr. T. is famous for, and comes off as inarticulate
Plot-wise, The A-Team strives
to land somewhere between an episode of the original series and the
Bourne thrillers. There are at least one too many layers of intrigue,
which come across as obligatory anyway. Why not just set up a
villain and have the group go after him (or her)? That kind of
directness usually works best in action pictures, especially ones with
ambitious set pieces. Director Carnahan handles these with wit
and a good sense of space, even when they are totally cartoonish (i.e.,
the scene with the airborne tank). Unfortunately, the final action
sequence is the weakest - its staging is clunky, almost veering into
Michael Bay territory, and is further hampered by some terrible CGI
The musical score by Alan Silvestri
strays too far from the martial themes of the original series for my
taste; the electronics are jarring and oddly inappropriate somehow.
But the supporting cast is quite good, particularly the likable Wilson
as the iffy CIA operative, and McRaney as the slain general. Jessica
Biel is just absurd as a military attache to the State Department.
Keep an eye out for a bizarrely brief cameo by Jon Hamm.
Note: Fox's DVD includes two
versions of the film - the theatrical version (118 minutes) and a
longer "Extended Cut" (133 minutes). I did not see the movie
in theaters, and chose the longer cut for my first go at The A Team.
Although there were no particular passages of the film that felt extraneous,
I felt that the film was "fat" overall. I suspect very strongly
that the shorter theatrical version plays better in terms of pacing.
As per their policy, Fox has forwarded
only a DVR screener, so I cannot comment on the audio/visual aspect
of the disc, since it does not reveal the final product. I can
confirm that the enhanced widescreen transfer replicates the film's
original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and that the main audio track is 5.1.
An informative, energetic commentary track by director Joe
Carnahan is available on the theatrical cut. It's packed with
production detail and Carnahan's delivery never flags. There's
also something called the A-Team Theme Mash-Up Montage (1:35)
which is utterly disposable.
Blustery, sloppy fun
that drags despite relentless plot development, The A-Team reaches
for the tone of 1980s action and the spirit of the series upon which
it is based, and misses. Rent it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.