Joe Carnahan's The A-Team manages to be a decent actioner with some nostalgic notes for fans of the original eighties t.v. series, while also being not all that much fun, almost completely brain-dead, implausible to the nth degree, and proud of it. Strong acting from the excellent cast and iconic characters who aren't hurt too much by a lazy script, poor dialogue editing, and action which is sometimes too exciting to follow save it, but only just.
We first meet the team of Army Rangers south of the border on the trail of drug dealers, as in this year's superior The Losers (the best A-Team movie of the year so far, awaiting results of the upcoming The Expendables). First up is the mysterious and wily leader Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson, cigar-chomping). He completes a great escape from captivity and heads out to find aid for fellow prisoner Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper of The Hangover, appealing) so they can accomplish their mission and flee the country.
Along the way, they encounter and recruit former Rangers B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, very good) and hospital inmate "Mad Man" Murdock (Sharlto Copley, so good in last year's Best Picture nominee District 9 and fine here). Baracus and Murdock get the least character development, and Baracus's is pretty stupid, verging on insulting to an average viewer's intelligence, which is a shame, as the actors are very good.
38 missions later, they find themselves still a team in the closing days of the Iraq War (so the film is mostly set in the future). A double-cross on a mission to find missing plates for counterfeiting American money leads to a confrontation with Face's former girlfriend Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel, all right), now with the Defense Department, and contractor Blackforest's Pike (Brian Bloom, a co-scripter with director Carnahan and Skip Woods, and okay in his role as head villain), who makes off with the plates.
The death of the base's commander, General Morrison (Gerald McRaney, "Major Dad"), takes with it any knowledge of the A-Team's secret orders and earns them courtsmartial and imprisonment in separate high-security facilities around the globe. This, of course, does not sit well with them, and when CIA operator Lynch (Patrick Wilson of Watchmen, pretty solid) offers them the opportunity to track down Pike and the plates, all systems are go for multiple jailbreaks and action fireworks galore.
This is where I admit loving "The A-Team" t.v. show when I was a kid in the eighties, and spending long hours playing at it, with action figures or in elaborately scripted backyard games involving forts, trampolines and plastic toy guns so realistic they are no longer legal to sell. I was usually Hannibal or Murdock. It was a lousy show, looking back, but fun, with some wit and lots of action, and the obligatory build-a-big-war-machine montage to its striking theme music. I wanted to drive every one of those behemoths, generally built with steel plates to be shot at by that week's villains in the final confrontation. There are a couple of blink-and-you'll-miss-it original cast cameos in this film, but I confess I blinked and missed them.
The film is better than the show in the respect that it does try to make the team more believable, at least militarily, if not with many good character notes. Hannibal and Face get the most screen time and notice, while Baracus and Murdock are unfortunately given somewhat short shrift. The film has a punchline rhythm which is mostly effective, despite some dialogue which seems aimed at being humorous, but which is often unintelligible as it is briefly shouted and/or drowned out by its proximity to major explosions. There's a very stupid secret revealed near the end about the movie's villains which is dumb, dumb, dumb.
The film's ending takes place at the L.A. docks, as in The Losers (who knew L.A. was such a hotbed of covert operations?), and again suffers in comparison. The Losers has a lot more wit, charm, natural intelligence and watchability. The A-Team's denouement is loud, messy, poorly choreographed, shot and edited. It's way over the top, and not in a good way. Still, we, and the team, muddle through somehow.
If you really want to see the The A-Team, I'm sure you will, and you probably should. It's a couple of hours of mostly fun, nostalgia and some entertaining set-ups. I would probably watch a sequel, but would be less enthusiastic to watch this one again. Carnahan's previous Narc, with Ray Liotta and The Losers's Jason Patric, was a true gem, a twisty character study with integrity and beaucoup plot surprises. The A-Team is an undemanding popcorn ride without Zoe Saldana.
Internet Movie Database Entry
Roger Ebert Review
Visit Alex Christensen's
Democrat Guide to the 2012 Race for President