Film Review: The A-Team
2010 – 119mn – 12A
Directed by Joe Carnahan. Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton Jackson, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson.
Review by Walter Nichols
I’ve always loved The A-Team. It was one of my favorite TV shows as a child, even though I can’t quite remember why (probably the theme music), and in spite of the fact that every episode I watch again now seems a slow, ridiculous, poorly acted, violent sitcom (then again, that’s what every “adult” show from the 80s feels like when watched now). The film adaptation has been in the works for years, sometimes mentioning George Clooney – this was pre-Oscar – and a little while back we even came close to a frightening version starring Bruce Willis, Ryan Reynolds, and Ice Cube.
Luckily, that never came to be, and now, 13 years after the television show froze its last frame, The A-Team finally hits cinemas. And it is the absolute best version of the show anyone could have conceived. In fact, it’s light years better than the show – it makes the show look good.
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It all starts with a cracking opening, in which we’re shown how the team first comes together, and which drew cheers from the audience. It’s perfectly paced and ingeniously introduces all four players – leader and man with a plan Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), con- and ladies’ man Lt. ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper), ace driver and hulking brute B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson), and completely bonkers pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley). The casting is spot-on. Neeson drops the disguises and crossdressing that made George Peppard’s Hannibal Smith a borderline joke every other episode, and turns him into a badass leader, old school military through and through. Cooper’s Face is his prot�g�, a man out to enjoy life, with a more laidback approach to things. Their relationship – and how much they can learn from each other – is cleverly put at the core of the film. Jackson, an Ultimate Fighting Champion whose stage name is, fittingly, “Rampage Jackson”, imbues B.A. with all of Mr. T’s contradictions (it’s Ghandi with a Mohawk! Punching people!); and District 9’s Copley actually manages to steal the show from everyone, in every scene, every time. Crucially, they all feel like they love each other, and the hang-out value of the TV series is multiplied. These are guys you’d like to be friends with.
Eight years after the opening, and the gang are in Iraq, about to be shipped out. They’ve become the Army’s most valued undercover team, specializing, in the words of one character, “in the ridiculous”. But they are hired and double-crossed by slimy CIA agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson in an absolutely fantastic turn), court-martialed, and sent to jail for – natch – that crime they didn’t commit mentioned in the TV series’ opening credits. They break out and go on the run to clear their names, with Army Lieutenant Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel) hot on their heels.
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It’s a simple enough plot, and the McGuffin – US currency printing plates stolen from Baghdad to be sold to the highest bidder – feels timely while also being irrelevant enough to not get in the way of the action. And the action is, obviously, what’s important here.
The filmmakers have done a brilliant job of updating the concept, tone and character of the series while keeping what made it so memorable: an enjoyable group of guys getting out of tight spots in hugely nonsensical, and tremendously enjoyable, ways. At one point, these guys try to fly a tank. And you whoop and cheer for them. Forget about suspending your disbelief – this is one of those cases where you should take your disbelief out back and shoot it in the head.
There’s no shortage of humor, either, but never poked at the main characters, another flaw of the series. Patrick Wilson and his CIA guys are brilliant foils, only made more threatening by the fact that they spend the film in designer clothes, drinking beer, sexually harassing female assistants, and treating their tapping equipment and drone bombers like toys.
It’s not a perfect film by any means – the final act is an overdose of mediocre CGI wrapped in cheese, and Hannibal bangs on about plans so much he sometimes feel like one of those dinner party guests who can only talk about one thing – but it’s made lovingly, loudly, and unpretentiously. It’s just plain FUN.
For shadowy reasons, the film tanked at the US box-office (making only $35 million dollars where it cost $120), so the planned sequels are now in jeopardy. It’s the very rare time where that actually feels like a real shame.
Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars