Review: The A-Team

the a team one sheet

There are some movies that are good date films but are really “guy films”, then there are guy films that are really just for men and would most likely go down in the annals of bad dates if you, a guy, were to bring a gal with you. Yeah, that’s sexist, but think of The A-Team as the guy version of Sex and the City 2 and you’ll understand what I mean.
Based on the 1980s TV series of the same name, The A-Team starts with a backstory that explains how the team was formed by a group of former Army Rangers during a crazy adventure in Mexico. 80 successful missions later, they’re tricked into a new mission that involves stolen US Mint plates that need to be recovered before a flood of counterfeit $100s destroy the American economy.
The team fails at its mission, is framed and each A-Team member is subsequently thrown in separate high security prisons scattered throughout the Western hemisphere. No worries, they break out through an unlikely sequence of events and have the dual task of recovering the stolen plates and clearing their names.
Or, at least, the plot seems to be something like that, but this is the kind of film where it’s really not much about the story line at all, and somehow, that’s okay. The film is still entertaining and the cast (Liam Neeson as Hannibal, the group leader, Bradley Cooper as Face, the handsome woman-crazy group member, Quinton Jackson as tough guy B.A. Baracus, a role made famous by Mr. T. in the original series, and District 9 standout Sharlto Copley as the crazy Murdock) works well and has an appealing chemistry even as the scenes often make no sense.

Having recently watched the wry, sophomoric parody MacGruber, it was hard not to see elements of TV’s MacGuyver in Hannibal’s approach to planning missions, along with the extraordinary complexity of 60’s TV series Mission Impossible too. Rather than being off-putting, however, it ends up being quite entertaining with the improbability of what transpires.

The original “The A-Team” starred George Peppard as Hannibal Smith, Dwight Schultz as Murdock, Mr. T. as B.A. Baracus and Dirk Benedict as Faceman Peck and ran for 97 episodes from 1983-1987. It was hardly great television, but it was popular and I remember watching sporadic episodes when I was a teenager.  Remaking old TV shows as movies is fraught with danger, though, because the stories and characters don’t hold up under modern expectations. Expect more of the same with remakes like the upcoming Gilligan’s Island.

Mr. T. offered an iconic performance as Baracus in the original TV series, giving Quinton Jackson the toughest role of the four team members. I liked the tattoos on his knuckles, PITY on one, FOOL on the other, and the nuances of his character: he’s afraid of flying even though he’s an Army Ranger, and for much of the film he wrestles with pacifism. 
the a team publicity still
Sharlto Copley offers an entertaining performance as the crazy helicopter pilot Murdock, but his accent was all over the place as the film progressed. In some scenes he sounded like an American, in other scenes his native South African twang snuck through, and in one scene he speaks Swahili and explains to his amazed colleagues “What?  You don’t speak Swahili?” Sloppy directing and continuity. Liam Neeson does the best job, however, instilling Hannibal with a wry self-conscious humor that was reminiscent of Peppard in the original role.

Jessica Biel plays Charisa Sosa, the cliché role of tough hottie in the military who has a soft spot for one of the protagonists (Face, in this case). In a film where it’s all about the action scenes, not the acting, she’s still surprisingly boring on screen, even though she’s unquestionably a beautiful woman.
The bad guys in the film are the Black Forest squad, led by Colonel Pike (Brian Bloom), Hannibal reports directly to good-old boy General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) and there’s also a CIA stooge called Mr. Lynch (Patrick Wilson) rounding out the main cast. There is some ambiguity with their roles but I’m confident you’ll have the story figured out before the denouement and closing credits.
The A-Team had good special effects and CG work which allows it to pull off many of the more complex stunts, but there were a few scenes that were just laughably over-the-top, notably one where they plummet towards the earth in a tank while steering it by shooting shells in different directions. Then again, saying that a scene was over-the-top in a film like this is probably a bit daft anyway.
In the end, how seriously can you take an action film where the signature quotes are “I love it when a plan comes together” and “overkill is underrated” and where Sosa’s ringtone for calls from Face is Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill?  Is The A-Team entertaining?  Yes. Is it a flawed movie with an incomprehensible storyline and massive suspension of disbelief required?  Definitely. Is it worth seeing?  I liked it!

5 comments on “Review: The A-Team

  1. A pleasantly surprising review, Dave! I figured this film for a shoe-in as a bad review prospect, but am glad to read that the film pulls off what is surely what it aimed to pull off: fun action. Thanks for the rundown, I’ll put A-Team back on my list of possibles.

  2. Ok, then. I think I CAN watch it. The original A-Team was not teens for me, but more growing up, and maybe unfortunately, the more silly or over-the-top plots of the show probably went right over my head anyway.

    Still, I was hoping for a good movie. I did not really want some modern, rough, bad-language, high-violence version, though. I kind of liked the original because you have such strong pacifist themes, not to mention the thousands of bullets and zero deaths.

    If the worst you have to say is over-the-top on the movie, I will watch, because, as you say, it has to do with your expectations. I am not looking for Oscar-worthy performances here. I just want an enjoyable flick for this one.

  3. Hey, I’m not a guy and I loved this movie. It was just a fun, summer action flick with hilarious one-liners, great action, and impossible stunts.

    It wasn’t perfect, but it really made me nostalgic for the old series, without making me feel like they were making a cheesy knock off.

  4. Murdock’s accent changes on purpose in each of those scenes. His “native” accent in the movie is American; in the scene where they’re infiltrating the press conference, he and Face are pretending to be a foreign journalist team, hence his South African accent; and in the scene where they’re in the airport he’s pretending to be from Swahili, hence his speaking the language.

    Murdock’s gift for acting and languages was a part of the original series as well. He often went on missions with Face because of it.

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