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The A-Team

It’s nice to know that you can still get what you expect at the multiplex. A big-screen summer adaptation of The A-Team involving Joe Carnahan, Ridley Scott and his brother Tony Scott is bound to be a high-octane display of mindless machismo! All three filmmakers are known for stylized films showcasing junk being blown up real good with full acknowledgment of any irony, humor or symbolism portrayed.

If you go in expecting some in-depth character development with a thought-provoking plot, you will not only be thoroughly disappointed but it will also show that you were completely unprepared going in. Take it for what it is, a fast and funny bullet-riddled yarn that adds a solid kick to a summer movie-going season that is so far quite tepid.

There are those who are worried Carnahan’s movie will disregard everything they loved about the TV series or that there will be an insane amount of violence and sex. Those folks can put their mind at ease since none of that can be found here. Take heart that one of the producers involved here is concept creator Steven J. Cannell,on hand to ensure the tone doesn’t stray too far away from the source material. As for the violence and sex, you can find much more to cover your kid’s eyes from on network television. While the over-the-top violence is intact, you will see some bad guys actually getting hurt but it’s minimal compared to what pop culture has dished out recently.

The film starts out in dusty Mexico, with the sweaty introduction of a battered Col. John “Hannibal” Smith (a silver-haired Liam Neeson), held captive by officers of a corrupt General. His escape is as smooth as it is quick, leading to a coincidental meet-up with Sergeant Bosco “B.A.” Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), driving a pimped-out GMC Vandura van across the desert. Hannibal forcefully coerces B.A. to accompany him in rescuing his comrade, Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman or Face” Peck (Bradley Cooper), from the general’s ranch.

They make it to an Army hospital, after the mayhem they created in their getaway, where they acquire the services of insane pilot, Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley). Taking flight in an old medical chopper, all four are thrust together in an aerial pursuit that establishes B.A.’s permanent fear of flying and provides a seemingly improvised victory. But the cigar-chomping Hannibal always has a plan and he loves it when comes together so well.

It’s an opening filled with excitement and humor that serves to establish an origin for this “A-Team” as well as to connect familiar character beats with these iconic roles. They realize that each of them are former U.S. Army Rangers, further solidifying their bond despite the deliberate antagonism between them.

The story jumps ”eight years and eighty successful missions later” with the team, stationed in Iraq, now a highly-valued resource to the U.S. military. The four men are taking it easy, riding out the end of the war when C.I.A. treasury agent Lynch (the wonderfully smarmy Patrick Wilson) and Dept. of Defense Capt. Charissa Sosa (Jessical Biel) separately inform them of some recently stolen counterfeit U.S. plates in Baghdad.

Lynch tempts them into nabbing them while Sosa (Face’s former flame) warns them to back off. Of course, both know the team won’t resist the urge to retrieve the plates, and despite the disapproval of Hannibal’s commanding officer, General Morrison (Gerald McRaney, no stranger to 80's material), they successfully steal the plates.

All this blows up in their faces, literally, as we see the team betrayed and framed, stripped of rank, dishonorably discharged and sentenced to four separate prisons in the States. Six months later, an imprisoned Hannibal is once again approached by Lynch to get the plates back. It appears a dirty black-ops soldier named Pike (co-writer Brian Bloom) may have them, possibly trying to sell them to the highest bidder. Being the resourceful man he is, Hannibal is already on to Pike and makes a deal to clear himself and his team once the mission is completed.

After four creative and humorous prison escapes, the team is back together, seeking to clear their names while methodically planning out their mission. These escapes enrage Sosa who tracks their movement, realizing no matter what situation the A-Team is in, they are always two steps ahead with a plan in play. As the multiple pursuits progress, more corruption is revealed amid various deals and schemes, followed by a succession of inevitable explosions and shootouts as both sides try to outwit each other.

Carnahan (“Narc” and “Smokin’ Aces”) directs a movie that is far from camp but it does partake of some outrageous situations and injected hilarity. He gives these elements and the required testosterone a hard lather while allowing the four characters enough needed moments to establish why they are perfect for each other. Like the show, Murdock can often diffuse B.A. while the overly-prepared Hannibal often balks at Face’s spontaneity. It’s the kind of back and forth used to solidify what keeps these guys together, something Carnahan knows is needed as well as a nod to fans of the show.

While the script fumbles when it tries to be somewhat melodramatic at times, it still knows went to increase the ridiculous, like when the guys escape a exploded cargo plane in a parachuting tank. It’s a gleefully preposterous sequence that screams summer action, loud and clear. That’s ultimately what we’re given here, an adaptation that is more brazen, ballsy and bigger than the show ever was.

But what of the cast, that is required to embody such popular roles? What do they do with characters that twenty-five years ago were on T-shirts, lunch boxes and Trapper Keepers? They have fun, that’s what they do and as well they should. I was afraid that Neeson, a fine actor who is on the verge of becoming over-exposed, would be just downright silly after seeing trailer footage. But right from his introduction, his charisma is confidently clear as he growls his way as the mindful leader who always looks out for his men.

Cooper hits all the right notes with his handsome smirk, effortless charm and playful mischief masking how capable he is as a soldier and potential leader. It also helps that his scenes with Biel exude just the right required chemistry. It also doesn’t hurt that Biel continues to rise above the rest of the Jessicas working today. With Sosa turning out to be more than just “brass in pursuit”, it helps that Biel is given more to do than just add some estrogen to the game.

Jackson has the most difficult task as B.A. He’s no fool but I pity anyone who has to follow the charisma and essence of Mr. T. Wisely, his character is toned down a bit, allowing his mere presence (muscles, mohawk and PITY and FOOL tattooed on each fist) to fill the role. At times, he mumbles through his lines but I honestly wasn’t expecting to be moved by his acting chops.

I was expecting District 9 star, Sharlto Copley, to nail his madcap role and boy does he ever. He has to not only deliver some of the most hilarious bits but he has to do so in a way that the audience will question his sanity while believing in his capabilities. He proved to be the most entertaining bit of casting the movie has to offer.

It’s impossible to please the naysayers or fans in casting a movie like this, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can balk at this solid cast. All four actors clearly have a good time with their roles….and who wouldn’t? I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone else who would do any better and considering the actors that were being looked at for these roles, just be grateful. Those aforementioned fans should stay in their seats for a fun post end-credit scene.

As a tween when the successful NBC show aired, the gung-ho nature appealed to me yet I can’t say I tuned in weekly. Like this movie, the show was fun for guaranteed action and laughs but that’s about it. It bolstered cartoonish bravado and manly camaraderie, something viewers my age or older ate up back then and should fully expect to see here, albeit on a larger scale. The film ends with set-up for anticipated sequels, as we’re told, “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them…”, followed by the familiar theme song. That sounds like a plan I could easily get behind.

This review also appears on David's own site, KeepingItReel.com

David J. Fowlie

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