Review: The A-Team (2010)

The new guys

The plan for The A-Team was to adapt a cheesy 1980s action TV series for the big screen by distilling its spirit and repackaging it with 21st century effects, and, to quote Col. John “Hannibal” Smith himself: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Loud, fast-moving, violent and filled with explosions and wisecracks, it’s hard to imagine a more faithful adaptation of the explosion-laden, wisecracking TV series. Befitting the larger venue, the movie characters feel bigger: Bradley Cole’s Templeton “Faceman” Peck is much more in-your-face; brash and boastful, rather than coolly confident. B.A. Baracus gets fleshed out much more fully by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson than Mr. T was ever allowed to do on the small screen. And Sharlto Copley’s (District 9) “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock is completely divorced from reality – touching down only occasionally to refuel before taking off on another flight of fancy. Only mastermind Hannibal seems smaller than he was on TV, perhaps because Liam Neeson, as the acting heavyweight in the cast, chooses to actually play him as a thinker, even though his plans are even more outrageous than the wild scams George Peppard dreamed up on a weekly TV budget.

The film starts with an origin story, bringing together the members of what will become the specialized Alpha Team in somewhat predictable fashion: they all “meet cute” – although in this context, “cute” means they shoot each other for shock value/comic effect. From there, the movie moves on to a plot that could be straight out of the classic series’ DVD box set, but pumped up for the silver screen: Those loose cannons are fighting the good fight in Iraq when they become embroiled in the hunt for stolen U.S. mint printing plates that can be used to perfectly counterfeit U.S. currency. In short order, the guys are framed and arrested and – like the series prologue stated, week-in and week-out – they promptly escape, seeking to clear their names, capture the real baddies, and keep the world safe for U.S. capitalism.

Fellow 1980s TV stalwart Gerald McRaney (SIMON & SIMON, MAJOR DAD) portrays Gen. Morrison, the A-Team’s military boss. The bad guy, Pike, is played by Brian Bloom (ex-Dusty, AS THE WORLD TURNS) who, interestingly, is also credited as a co-writer of this film! I was particularly amused by a droll Patrick Wilson (Watchmen’s Nite Owl) as the generically bloodless CIA operative Lynch. Jessica Biel is, as usual, distractingly beautiful as Lt. Sosa, who was some kind of authority figure who was tracking the A-Team for some reason or another. Sosa used to be involved with a certain member of the team; I’ll leave it up to you to guess which one.

Original recipe

Director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, Narc) makes sure everything blows up real good, and he keeps the movie firing on all cylinders – even if the details of exactly what is happening during any given firefight tend to get a bit muddled. I’m still not precisely sure how the epic final confrontation went down, but it certainly did not lack for ambition – and the execution was fun to watch. The movie is not above sight gags, as when an armored escape car comes crashing through a wall on which was projected an ersatz movie called “The Great Escape.” (Note that the credits for the fake movie looked to me to include one “Reginald Barclay” – which was the name of the character played by TV’s original Murdock, Dwight Schultz, on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. And yes, if that’s confirmed, that’s about as nerdy an Easter egg as you’re ever going to see…) To see this same story – seriously, exactly this story – treated straight, check out The Losers, a film about a crack military ops teams framed for an explosive crime they did not commit. The Losers is actually a solid winner. The coda scene following the end credits is totally worth it – especially to connoisseurs of the original series.

Is this a “great” movie? Absolutely not. This is the kind of mindless entertainment that requires you to turn off your brain and just let it assault your eyeballs. It’s the reason the term popcorn movie was coined. I pity the fool who refuses to enjoy this flick.

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