Overkill is underrated – The A-Team review

The A-Team – Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Were people really screaming out for an A-Team movie? I don’t think they were. Fans of the show seem somewhat annoyed about their beloved TV characters being reimagined for the big screen, and all those teenage boys who supposedly make up the brunt of the cinema going audience don’t even know what an A-Team is. (Hint: They’re like a military version of those Avengers that you damn kids are so excited about). The A-Team brand name is probably even dustier and daggier than Star Trek before J.J. Abrams injected some life into it. I’ve never seen an episode of the show, and I only have the most basic understanding of characters and the key quotations. Therefore, I can’t speak to how faithful the film is to the source material (sorry old school A-Teamsters). Based on its own merits, The A-Team is a sweet little sugar cube of outrageous fun and almost unparalleled silliness. We may not have asked for it, but I’m thankful we’ve got it.

The film adaptation of The A-Team is indeed a reboot in the strictest sense, giving us a brand new origin for these eventual “soldiers of fortune”. The film begins with Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) serendipitously teaming up with fellow soldiers B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and Howling Mad Murdoch (Sharlto Copley) while trying to rescue playboy Lieutenant ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper) from a cuckolded Mexican despot (needless to say, Face was attempting an invasion of his own). The mission is a resounding success, and the awesome foursome spend eight years as the military’s go-to-guys. However, in the final days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, a mysterious C.I.A. agent named Lynch (a brilliantly playful Patrick Wilson) enlists the dream team to recover some money-printing plates from the Iraqis. They succeed, obviously, but not before being double-crossed and sent to prison. Their time behind bars is short-lived. At this point, you can probably insert the TV show’s famous opening monologue and figure out the rest of the plot.

Director Joe Carnahan is famous for his gritty, kinetic style, not unlike that of Peter Berg. These two filmmakers share a lot of similarities, and that’s not exactly a good thing. They’re both big fans of the shakycam action sequence, even if they don’t have the Greengrass-esque chops to pull them off. They’re also clumsy storytellers (Berg’s Hancock might be the most muddled/misguided major blockbuster of the past five years, and Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces is practically incomprehensible). What makes Berg tiresome and Carnahan exciting however, is that Carnahan never takes himself too seriously. Smokin’ Aces – for all of its nonsensical plot twists and seemingly infinite number of characters – is insanely watchable; a colourful cornucopia of nutty, cartoon violence. The A-Team? Even more so. The plot makes a semblance of sense (already an improvement over Smokin’ Aces), and the action is wonderfully ridiculous, even if it betrays every law of physics imaginable. But hey, the film still takes place in a more realistic universe than that of Sex and the City 2!

Yes, planes are shot down mid-flight, and its crew escape by ejecting themselves out from within a tank. And no, that sentence isn’t supposed to make sense. Many of the team’s convoluted plans have about as much probability of success as someone attempting to swallow their car whole. But that’s the point (or rather, that’s the ‘joke’). Carnahan isn’t trying to get you gasp in surprise; he’s trying to get you to laugh out of incredulity. The film is consistently surprising because it shows us things that no one would reasonably predict. It is fitting that the final action sequence literally features the A-Team setting off pyrotechnics. Big things go boom.

But expensive explosions only get you so far, and this film would be nothing without its talented cast. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley are a hoot. They’re winking along with us, but not so often that it becomes obnoxious. Neeson only solidifies his action-star credibility (as hilariously promised in Taken); Cooper continues to prove himself as the next big charismatic movie star; and Copley, the untrained actor who made an impressive debut in District 9, emerges as an exciting character actor (look out Sam Rockwell). The only disappointment is mixed martial artist Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in the role made famous by the inimitable (although often imitated) Mr. T. Hardly a master thespian himself, Mr. T. became a star thanks to his aggressive yet vulnerable charisma. And Jackson just don’t got it. He is a convincing bad ass, but he just can’t sell the dramatic moments like his co-stars. Also, he’s a little hard to understand. I imagine even the Duplass Brothers or fellow mumblecore auteurs would have cut Jackson during filming and said “Can we take that one more time? I couldn’t quite make out what you were saying there.”

For some reason, it seems that the team-up movie is back in fashion. We saw The Losers hit cinemas earlier this year, and we can look forward to The Expendables, X-Men: First Class, The Avengers, and multiple versions of The Three Musketeers over the coming months and years. The A-Team is hardly a benchmark, but if these future projects can promise just as much fun, then hopefully this becomes the fad to finally overthrow those pesky vampires. The A-Team gets the job done. The only losers here are gravity and logic, and frankly, they’ve had it too good for too long.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

5 Responses to “Overkill is underrated – The A-Team review”

  1. I used to watch the original A-team when I was very little and still enjoy it now. The cast had a lot of character and where fun to watch. The combination of talented actors and amateurs with a lot of charisma really worked. Having said that, I am not looking at A-team 2010 as a remake, trying to find similarities between this movie and the original, but Neeson and company just seem completely out of place. They are taking themselves and the story far too seriously. Still, it's worth a look– just don't excpect an original, intellectually stimulating movie.

  2. I am not looking at A-team 2010 as a remake, trying to find similarities between this movie and the original, but Neeson and company just seem completely out of place. They are taking themselves and the story far too seriously.

  3. Never write a post on a phone, while on the way home on a bumby bus…what I wanted to say, the story is quite fun and completely incredible as Simon said, 'you chuckle out of incredulity'. But the actors don't seem to see it that way, they are just acting too stiffly for this kind of movie. They are good actors without a doubt, but I don't think Quinton Jackson is the only one overplaying the tough-guy role that's all(just my opinion). And I am really only taking this movie into consideration not the original A-Team.

  4. As an avid A-Team watcher in the 80's I revisited the first three seasons a couple of years back. They had a lot of charm, and brought back memories, but they had dated terribly and some scenes were almost cringeworthy…how did Mr. T ever get work again? They were definitely more entertaining as an eight year old boy. I was super excited about the film and was lucky enough to attend the Perth premiere Monday night. I was accompanied by my wife and a fellow Gen X-er who was just as keen as me about seeing it. Not only did we enjoy it immensely, but we saw it as a big improvement on the TV series. Very glad that each actor didn't impersonate their TV counterparts, but formed their own character, which was a big relief in BA's case. Contrary to Simon, I thought Jackson did quite well in the role. Heck, anything other than Mr. T is an improvement, given his limited range of snarling ominously or laughing. It certainly isn't thought provoking or innovative, but it's easy to watch and very entertaining. More than a few in-jokes for the fans too. 4/5 for me.

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