8 June 2010 | Rick_Gershman
The best film you could ask for from an "A-Team" adaptation
If any film demands to be graded on a curve, it's The A-Team.
Simply consider the notion of making a big-budget summer movie from of one of the cheesiest television shows of a cheesy TV era.
It's a crafty plan to lower your expectations. As long the movie isn't two hours of punching grandmothers and kicking puppies, you're likely to leave the theater saying, "That was better than I expected."
Guess what? It works like a charm.
The A-Team, against all odds, is one extremely entertaining film. It puts pedal to metal about 90 seconds in and never lets up. That's also savvy because it's also kind of a mess that would collapse under its own weight if it slowed down for more than two minutes.
Director Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces, Narc) isn't taking that chance. Action scenes come flying at you hard and heavy from start to finish. The results are mixed: Some sequences are choppy and confusing, others thrilling. But like a comedy that never stops pitching jokes, content if only half of them stick, The A-Team pitches action, action, action, with a side of action and a little action to wash it down.
The plot follows the general concept of the TV series with a few tweaks. A (very) lengthy credits sequence set in Mexico shows us how the team of former Army Rangers comes together: Leader John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson), his right-hand man Templeton "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper), powerful Bosco "B.A." Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and loony pilot James "Howling Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley).
We jump ahead several years, where the A-Team is now an Army covert operations crew with dozens of successful missions under their belts. But when they're set up for a fall by a variety of villainous forces, the boys have to break out of jail and fight to clear their names.
That's pretty much all you wanted to know about the plot, right? Because it gets pretty confusing from there and doesn't matter in the slightest anyway. It's only there to support – that's right – action.
Before I tell you why A-Team is worth your hard-earned cash, I should lay out its many faults.
Though Carnahan directed, it's not surprising to see director Tony Scott was one of the producers. Too many scenes evince Scott's "look" – the camera shoved in way too tight on the actors, so you can't tell what the hell's going on in fight scenes or big gun battles.
The special effects are wildly uneven too, especially in the climax. It looks like the usual Hollywood problem of the CGI being "just good enough" to make a locked-in release date. This time, it's nowhere near good enough.
But then, The A-Team is a nitpicker's dream, if you really want to go there. Jessica Biel's casting seems like an inside joke – "we're not taking this seriously, and neither should you, so let's cast a gorgeous but astonishingly wooden actor in this role."
Maybe you're wondering whether she's really that bad. Look at it this way: This is the first major film role for "Rampage" Jackson, an MMA fighter. He's not great, but he's not too bad – and that's high praise for a non-actor stepping into the iconic role. Yet he's a good bit more believable than Biel.
So with those issues, what makes The A-Team so entertaining? The rest of the cast, actually. If you can look past Biel (actually, look right at her, that's what she's there for), the film is jam-packed with colorful, charismatic performances.
Neeson seems a bit odd at first stepping into George Peppard's shoes as Hannibal, being considerably taller, leaner and tougher. But that's appropriate for the movie, which is basically the TV show on (lots and lots of) steroids. No attempt is made to explain his Irish accent, nor that of Copley, who is South African. It doesn't matter: Somehow in this film, it works.
But the film decides early on to focus on Cooper, hot off his success in The Hangover, and it's the right choice. You'd never have guessed the guy who played eighth fiddle on Alias would be front-and-center for a star-making performance, but it's true.
The A-Team shows off Cooper's buffed-up physique almost to the point of absurdity – he's shirtless on screen more than Mark Wahlberg in Date Night – but Cooper's charisma carries the day throughout.
A well-rounded supporting cast also delivers. Patrick Wilson and Brian Bloom, as potentially shady characters related to the A-Team's troubles, steal every scene they're in. (It probably doesn't hurt that Bloom, a veteran actor mostly relegated to TV work, gets co-writing credit.) Their wonderfully brash characters bring welcome levity to the pounding machine of gunfights and explosions that propels The A-Team.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't note the drinking game that by all rights should be born from this film: Drink whenever a guy with icy blue eyes is on screen. You'd pass out halfway through the film.
There's Cooper and Neeson alone, plus Bloom and Wilson, with a little Gerald McRaney – yes, Major Dad himself – thrown in for good measure.
If you're really into dudes with bright blue eyes, The A-Team is like porn. If you're into nonstop action and lots of male bonding, The A-Team is like porn. If you're into deep, fully-realized female characters – well, look elsewhere.
But if you had to ask me what I would want a big-screen take on a really silly TV show to be, The A-Team more than fits the bill. It's ridiculous, sure. But it's also a ridiculous amount of fun.