The A-Team

Ross Maclean 29 July, 2010 1

There’s the voiceover prologue, the incredulous ingenuity, the cigars, the Mohawk, the catchphrases, the red and black Chevrolet van, the jewellery, ˜dun-da-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun’. At worst the 80s television show was ridiculous, at best it was iconic. As such, the wealth of established imagery and characters should make updating it for a modern age a breeze; a simple case of updating Wars from Vietnam to the Gulf.

Not so, it would seem, as a movie version of The A-Team has been struggling to make it to the big screen for almost as long as the show has been off-air, with names like Mel Gibson, George Clooney and Jim Carrey once mooted for roles. Now finally reaching the big screen we have Liam Neeson as John ˜Hannibal’ Smith, Bradley Cooper as Lt. ˜Faceman’ Peck, District 9’s Sharlto Copley as Murdock and ultimate fighter Quinton ˜Rampage’ Jackson filling Mr T’s boots as B.A. Baracus.

The film is fairly heavy on setting things up and takes us from when our intrepid crack commando unit first get together through to being framed and punished for a crime they didn’t commit, prompt escape and eventual fugitive status.

The opening set-up doesn’t work structurally and it’s not really necessary to provide an extended prologue where the characters meet for the first time. Its only purpose is to introduce each character’s quirks, one-by-one, before jumping forward another 8 years for further introduction to their methods.

It’s probably a good quarter of an hour before the realisation of just what tone the film is going for sinks in. Once it’s being assessed on those terms “ that it’s barely going to stop for breath before lurching from explosion to explosion “ the film’s charm seems almost effortless. It’s decidedly light on plot and involves little more than our foursome on-the-lam from the authorities and trying to prove their innocence. This isn’t detrimental here as the film is all about seeing the four characters back and engaged in the same type of exploits we connected with the first time around.

Jessica Biel as Captain Charissa Sosa

For the 2010 update, director Joe Carnahan promised something more serious, without tongue planted in-cheek à la Charlie’s Angels or Starsky & Hutch. Despite this, we’re assured early on that our heroes specialise in the ridiculous. That’s certainly an assurance Carnahan can’t be faulted on sticking to. From lame-brained one-liners to overcranked set-pieces, the film is full of what can only be described by that adjective.

In what feels like a conscious move to expand horizons from the Los Angeles underground of the series, the film broadens its global horizons to take in action set-pieces in Germany, Iraq, Mexico and various states of the US. It seems like a partially successful attempt to give the film an international flavour in the same vain as Bourne or Bond “ with a terse segment set in Frankfurt recalling both but bettering neither.

This film’s strong suit isn’t in earthy, brutal scrapping or docu-style shoot-outs. Where this excels is in the ludicrous scenes of logic-defying fluff, best exemplified by falling from a plane, in a tank, over Germany, while shooting, with failing parachutes and a quaint Teutonic couple.

Individually the actors are fine and manage to stay just the right side of bringing to mind the previous interpretations while making the characters their own. Jackson in particular (when you can overcome his mumble) plays B.A. far more forlornly than might be reasonably expected and, if anything, it’s the times when the script requires him to ˜pity fools’ that he seems most ill at ease.

While not quite imitations there is a bit of by-the-book simulation from Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley (who manages to disguise his wavering American accent by spending almost the entire film putting on voices, including his native South African). Liam Neeson, on the other hand, takes Hannibal to more rugged extremes while still maintaining the insouciant charm of George Peppard.

It’s the scenes of interplay when the team is together where the film shines. Although the scenarios are lifted directly from the show, it’s hard not to raise a smile at the increasingly outré ways to get B.A. to fly or the best laid plans of the bombastic finale. The dialogue is snappy and papers over many of the film’s errors with panache. While the TV show is clearly revered there are sly acknowledgements of the series’ more outlandish premises and nods to the fatality-free nature of their televisual counterparts’ escapades.

What the film does lack is a suitable level of threat. It’s missing a really good villain and tries to make up for that by cramming it full of crosses, double-crosses and red herrings. Jessica Biel as the team’s army nemesis is too sexy and insignificant to ever seem like a real threat and other characters’ very presence is enough to alert even the most undemanding viewer of impending plot twists.

What worked once won’t necessarily work again. Sometimes it’s best to leave the iconic where it was, and where it often belongs “ in the past. If this production’s tumultuous journey to the big screen has shown us anything it’s that plans fall apart, but the net result can be all the better for it. In this instance, previous tribulations seem to have resulted in a film which knows what it wants to be and that’s fun without being campy.

It’s ludicrous, it’s overblown and it’s bombastic. In short, it’s everything you’d want from an A-Team movie. It may not quite be ˜A’ material, but it’s a solid ˜B+’.

★★★★★