Sitting down to write this review I sensed a strong wave of déjà vu wash over me. It was mostly due to the fact that I write all my reviews from the comfort and safety of a warm bath, but this piece felt particularly similar to one I had written just a couple months ago. A firefight south of the border, a ragtag group of soldiers charged with a crime they didn’t commit, an action-packed adventure to clear their name, and a morbidly insane (and hilarious) CIA agent as their primary nemesis. Two months ago it was called The Losers. This month it’s called The A-Team. And where that first movie is based on a comic few people have seen, this one comes with five seasons of cheesy eighties TV goodness behind it…
The TV show followed the adventures of four ex-U.S. Army Special Forces on the run after being falsely charged with war crimes. They become soldiers of fortune, taking on jobs to help people in need, and manage to defeat armies of enemies without ever killing a single one. (I was always a bigger fan of Edward Woodward’s The Equalizer. He offered his services for a price as well, but he at least managed to off thugs left and right.) The premise is simple and perfectly captured in each episode’s intro. “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… The A-Team.” The show represents the epitome of eighties TV action with lots of explosions, one liners, and absurdities.
And the movie keeps the tone of the series perfectly intact… but magnifies it all exponentially.
The A-Team movie also serves as more of an origin story to the series we know and love. Col. ‘Hannibal’ Smith (Liam Neeson) and Lt. ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) are on a mission in Mexico to capture or kill a very bad man. Things get out of hand and the duo find themselves in need of assistance… which is where B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copley) are introduced. Jump ahead eight years and eighty successful missions and our heroes are serving in Iraq under Col. Morrison (Gerald McRaney). They take on a covert mission against the advice of a shapely and wise Cpt. Sosa (the shapely Jessica Biel) and soon find themselves framed and behind bars. You know what happens next… they escape, clear their names, and queue up the theme music ingrained in our cultural memory.
And the damn thing works… for the most part. Director Joe Carnahan wisely chose to keep the TV show’s spirit and identity intact for its transition to the big screen. Vietnam is updated to Iraq, but the players are the same. Neeson’s Hannibal is the team leader always two steps ahead of the enemy, Face is the ladies man with a penchant for problem solving, B.A.’s favorite word is “fool” and he’s still afraid to fly, and Murdock remains the questionable nut-job who occasionally detours into puppet theater and Braveheart imitations. We know these guys and we know what they’re up to, even if it is taking place in a much bigger sandbox. Carnahan embraces the show and its fans and gives us a fun summertime romp that happily reminds the audience that entertainment doesn’t always need to be smart.
Just because Carnahan and friends have made the best possible film version of The A-Team doesn’t mean they’ve made a wholly successful one. At two hours the movie runs about twenty minutes too long. If there’s any question as to what should have been cut I’d recommend looking no further than the multiple flashbacks (I counted five) to scenes we just witnessed less than thirty minutes prior. It gets old real fast. Helicopters do impossible things, thousands of rounds of ammunition fail to kill a single person, and a port full of shipping containers becomes home to a laughable version of three-card monte. Unsurprisingly, the big action set-pieces are fabricated from the ridiculous (the flying tank scene gets even sillier than the trailers show), but they somehow still manage to be fun. The CGI effects don’t have an excuse to fall back on however, and they sometimes look fairly cheesy for the budget.
But The A-Team accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do… entertain. There’s nothing intelligent or witty about it, but Carnahan keeps the flick completely within the realm of the source material and caters to fans of big, goofy fun. That said, the real success here is due to the casting. Cooper absolutely nails the confident, good-natured, and often shirtless Face, and along with Copley is responsible for most of the movie’s laughs. The third member of their little comedy troupe is, surprisingly, Patrick Wilson as a CIA agent named Lynch. As the main villain, Wilson plays him as an amateur bad guy constantly curious or in awe of his surroundings. The three of them get the film’s best dialogue and reaction shots.
Is The A-Team worth your hard-earned dollars? Hell if I know, but I’m confident enough to say that you can do far worse (and far better) at theaters this summer. The movie takes itself slightly more serious than the very similar The Losers does (but still manages to kill far fewer people in the process), and is a slightly better movie because of it. The characters have a bit more weight, the laughs are fairly consistent, and while the effects and action scenes are a mixed bag they’re still competent enough to make for an entertaining time at the movies.
The Upside: Loose, casual fun; Cooper, Copley, and Wilson provide the majority of the laughs
The Downside: Stubbornly sticks to the “no on-screen death” policy from the TV show; about twenty-minutes too long; multiple flashbacks to scenes that happened less than thirty minutes prior; people and hardware are seemingly immune to laws of physics; Biel has no shower scene
On the Side: The A-Team is a completely different movie from The Losers. And both of those are totally different from The Expendables.