The A-Team review

Ron checks out The A-Team movie, and wonders if it can possibly live up to his memories of the 80s TV show...

There’s always a risk involved when you’re going back into the past to look at something you really love. As an 80s kid, I can honestly tell you that a lot of the concepts that were awesome when I was a kid just don’t really work now that I’m a couple years shy of 30.

Talking cars are awesome when you’re six, but Knight Rider just doesn’t work well in a generation where we do have talking cars (GPS units, Microsoft’s Sync system, etc.) and any number of gizmos from the pages of science fiction.

When I was a youth, The A-Team was awesome. It was an action show about good guys defending the helpless from powerful and evil interests, if the price was right (though usually they did it for free anyway). The A-Team movie is kind of like an A-Team origin story, in which an elite Alpha unit of former Airborne Rangers are framed for a crime they didn’t commit. This is the story of how they met, and how they got framed.

Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) is the best at what he does, and what he does is solve problems. As Cpt. Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel) says, they specialize in the ridiculous. Then again, they’re a reformed criminal, a con artist, and a lunatic, respectively. BA Baracus (Quentin Rampage Jackson), Faceman (Bradley Cooper) and Howling Mad Murdock (Sharlto Copley) are the weirdest Alpha Team (or A-Team, get it?) in the military, and they’re the most effective. That’s why a CIA spook named Lynch (Patrick Wilson) turns to them when he needs to recover some stolen $100 printing presses and half-a-billion dollars in counterfeit currency.

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Unfortunately, the A-Team is double-crossed, the plates are stolen, and the boys are jailed for their troubles. Way to reward them for fine service. Fortunately, they’re still the only guys who can recover the plates, and they’ve still got Lynch on their side. Their new mission: get the plates (again), track down the criminals, and clear their names.

When it comes to the casting, The A-Team is about perfect. Liam Neeson is convincing as Hannibal Smith, as he’s got the look down, if not the subtle humor. Bradley Cooper, as we’ve all seen from The Hangover, plays a great sleazy kind of ladies’ man. Quentin “Rampage” Jackson has the look for B.A. Baracus, but he’s not got Mr. T’s natural charisma and is only an adequate replacement for the legend that is T.

The standout is Sharlto Copley as Howling Mad Murdock. Of all the new players, he’s the one who does the most with his role, and he’s the one that steals every scene with his fearlessness, nervous energy, and rubbery face. Strangely enough, the film’s other standout character is Lynch, Patrick Wilson’s sleazy CIA agent. He’s kind of like a combination of Face and Hannibal in terms of being both charming and smart, which is the kind of role Patrick Wilson should excel at.

Normally, one good hero and one good villain would be enough to carry a movie, but not so much in the case of The A-Team. The parts are all there, but the whole doesn’t exactly come together, thanks to the directing style of Joe Carnahan, who is quite possibly the worst sort of director for this kind of movie.

Yes, The A-Team is an action movie, and Joe Carnahan is Mr. Action Movie, but he’s the modern sort of action director, who specializes in nauseating handheld camera work, lots of quick editing, and scenes too dark to see anyone getting killed. In other words, his directing style is the exact opposite of The A-Team as it once was, which is why the movie doesn’t work.

There’s no real coherence to the movie, though lots of things blow up and smash together in a pleasingly dumb way.

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There are hints of the familiar characters we know and love buried within the script by Carnahan, Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Swordfish), and Brian Bloom, but they’re smothered out before they can really develop, aside from the comic relief of Murdock and Lynch.

Yes, we know the characters and know how they’re supposed to react to one another, but part of that is because The A-Team formula has been so well established, and the show was and is such a pop culture landmark that people carry around a certain basic comprehension of who they are and how they tie together.

I can appreciate the difficulty in bringing a beloved TV show to the big screen, especially a show like The A-Team where nobody was ever really killed. The movie version of The A-Team does a fairly good job at keeping the violence and killing to a minimum, while keeping the maximum amount of mayhem and explosions, while adding just enough adult elements to keep the movie on an audience-friendly PG-13 level.

However, the end result doesn’t feel like The A-Team. It feels more like an inferior sequel to The Losers. If you want a fix of A-Team-style action, I suggest you check out Human Target, one of my favorite shows from last season. It’s got the right balance of humor, action, and personality to be a perfect A-Team homage. It’s just a shame that Human Target gets The A-Team right, while The A-Team movie gets it wrong.

US correspondent Ron Hogan wants a black GMC van with a red spoiler on the back Who wouldn’t? I pity the fool who doesn’t like the GMC Vandura. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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2 out of 5