Monday, July 12, 2010

The A-Team (2010)

I really have to stop letting myself read other reviews and press releases and all of that nonsense ahead of time when it concerns a movie that I do actually want to see. I know better, I really do, but that doesn’t seem to stop me. A couple of times recently this practice has led me to hold off on seeing movies that I wound up enjoying. It happened with “Kick-Ass”, and it happened again with “The A-Team”.

I was as torn as everyone else when it was announced that everyone’s favorite, resourceful military fugitives from the 1980s were going to get their very own big-budget, live-action, summer-blockbuster release. Everything I sincerely loved as a child has been rehashed and remade, and generally fucked up, like “Transformers”. The only thing I have fond childhood memories of that is left for the Hollywood recycling machine to redo is “Magnum P.I.” (Though due to the present financial woes over at MGM, the “Red Dawn” remake may not happen, and the proposed Voltron” movie is presently dead, so I got a reprieve on those fronts. There is an impending live-action adaptation of “Battleship Yamamoto”—aka “Star Blazers” for us Yanks—but that’s a Japanese production, and the trailer looks awesome.)

I was skeptical about “The A-Team”, but I was always still going to see it, I had to. And I liked it, I really did. It’s not the best movie ever made, and it was completely absurd, but so was the show. I seem to remember an episode where the team jerry rigged a cannon that shot some sort of pink, salt water taffy type of substance, which completely overwhelmed a group of heavily armed bad guys, so, ridiculous is what I expected.

The cast is a higher level than for any of the horror movie reboots that keep popping up, and their performances are spot on. Liam Neeson as Hannibal even looks like George Peppard, and gets to utter his signature line, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Bradley Cooper is pitch perfect as Face, his smart-ass, cocky, d-bag charm is exactly what that part needed. I want to hate him, but I can’t. Former UFC light heavyweight champ, Quintin “Rampage” Jackson, is adequate as B.A. Baracas, but let’s be honest, though I have a deep seeded love for Mr. T, he was never widely acclaimed for his acting acumen. Sharlto Copley rounds out the team as “Howling Mad” Murdock, the batshit crazy pilot of all things airborne, and a few things not that shouldn’t be.

Beyond the central figures, the whole movie is well cast. Patrick Wilson has a blast playing the scummy, two-timing CIA Agent Lynch, and steals every scene he is in. Brian Bloom plays Hannibal’s chief rival, Pike, a private security specialist. And Gerald McRaney is in this movie. That’s right, Gerald McFucking Raney. That alone is enough to win my love. Jessica Biel is also in the cast, but I’m pretty indifferent to her existence.

While the TV show took place after Hannibal and company were already on the run, the movie tackles how they meet, become the best, and are ultimately betrayed by the very government they served.

After the four protagonists meet in the Mexican desert, we skip forward eight years and 80 missions, to the current Iraq war. There the Alpha Unit, or A-Team, pulls off a mission that no one else could have, but instead of being treated like heroes, they are blown up, shot at, arrested, court martialed, and imprisoned. Of course there is only one thing to do, escape from prison, banter back and forth, drug B.A. so he can fly, and clear their names, a feat which involves all manner of crazy plans, crackerjack timing, and lots of bullets and explosions. And unlike the show, some of these bullets do manage to hit people.

The action is over the top and absurd, bordering on ludicrous, and in other circumstances, it might turn me off, but in “The A-Team” the energy is so constant and engaging that it hooked me. Sure, they parachute a tank out of an airplane that just got shot down and take out some Predator drones while doing it. Director Joe Carnahan does that “Ocean’s Eleven” thing where as one character talks about the plan, the action plays out on screen with a voiceover. That’s been done to death and is kind of annoying. And it goes without saying that the love story between Face and Sosa (Biel) is forced, awkward, and not developed in any meaningful way.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a litany of flaws in “The A-Team”, and I totally get why some people hate it, but I thought it was a lot of fun. Everyone in this movie is having a blast. It must be liberating to be able just go over the top nuts and get paid for it, and it is at least smart enough that you don’t feel completely insulted. The introductions of the characters made me groan (they do the thing where they freeze frame and type the character’s name across the screen), but after that, once the action really kicks in, I was on board.

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