Review by Throwback
“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…The A-Team.” Anyone who does not immediately experience an adrenaline rush upon hearing those words has something wrong with them. The above quote was part of the introduction to one of the best action shows on television.
The A-Team ran for five seasons during the mid to late 80s and was required watching by anyone who was a kid back then. The story was about a group of Army Special Forces guys who were framed for robbing the National Bank of Hanoi during the Viet Nam War. Back in the US, they escaped from prison and took up the work of do-gooder mercenaries who were so skilled and awesome that they were able to subdue entire armies of bad guys without ever killing anybody. You had the whole spectrum of personalities here: the eccentric genius, John “Hannibal” Smith; the dashing ladies’ man, Templeton “Face” Peck; anti-social behemoth, BA Baracus; and the wholly insane pilot, HM “Howling Mad” Murdock. In other words, plenty of room for not taking things too seriously.
Considering the number of 80s rip-offs that have been tried in the last few years, it was really only a matter of time before they got around to the A-Team. Let’s see how they did.
I’m not going to go too much into plot because I already did that. This is essentially an origin story, with the setting shifted to modern times and the above-mentioned robbery being in Baghdad. You get the whole telling of how the guys were set up and how they escape to clear their names and so forth. The one big difference is that you get a bit of a preface that tells you how the four of them met. It’s well-done and fits with the rest of the mythos, despite the changes in time and place.
As was the case with the television series, this isn’t a show that takes itself seriously, and thank goodness for that. What this means is that director Joe Carnahan (who also helmed the action ensemble Smokin’ Aces) aimed to make a movie that was fun to watch, with everything else being secondary. He accomplished this in spades. The way I see it, there are two traps in movies like this. The first is to completely skip over certain characters to the point where they are just background noise. The second, and even more unforgiveable sin, is that to make the action boring by rolling it out in what amounts to one big monotonous explosion, with no rhythm, sequence, or purpose. Carnahan walked a very fine line here. In many ways, the film is almost a character piece because the focus remains with the team, rather than body counts. I said almost. This isn’t Platoon. But it also isn’t Last Action Hero, either.
Going into this, the casting was the least of my worries. After watching Liam Neeson as a full-bore tough guy in Taken, he seemed a natural fit for the Hannibal role. Face isn’t really all that taxing a role, so I knew Bradley Cooper would be fine. Most people didn’t know who Sharlto Copley was, but I had seen him in District 9. Playing a guy acting crazy was well within his wheelhouse. Then there was the role of BA. This is how Mr. T came to be famous, so naturally, you wonder how things will work out with a guy like Rampage Jackson taking over. Nobody is going to be handing out any Oscars, but the character was given some layers that the television show never did, so I can’t fault him too much. All in all, everybody did their jobs and did them well. I have to give most of the credit to Carnahan, though, for pacing the movie so that everyone had a chance to shine.
All that being said, the content was very, very disappointing. This is where Carnahan (and the writers, I suppose) screwed up. The best thing about the A-Team television series was that it was never an adult-oriented feature. Granted, I expected people to get killed in the film version. What I didn’t expect was an f-bomb, coupled with multiple blasphemies, and a lot of other foul language. Look, I get that they are in the military, but was all that really necessary? Of course not. More and more, it seems that movies are afraid of a PG rating, so they throw in enough profanity to give them the PG-13. In this case, it cost them ticket sales at least from my kids and probably a lot of others. The original series managed to get on fine without any of that; why did they feel the need to add it now?
For teens and adults, this is a very fun movie: plenty of humor executed well by good actors with a plot that keeps the action scenes fresh and exciting. What more can a viewer ask for? Less blasphemy and f-bombs, for one thing. True, there weren’t that many, but it was entirely out of place, I thought. If you ever catch this movie in an “edited for television” format, it would be very, very good. I’m giving it two tiaras based on the overall quality and trying not to let less than thirty seconds of language taint the whole thing.