Sunday, June 13, 2010

"The A-Team" (2010)

"The A-Team" (2010)
Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel
Written by Joe Carnahan and Brian Bloom
Directed by Joe Carnahan

"I love it when a plan comes together."
"The A-Team," a cheesy 80s action/comedy series has been given a slick, hilarious big-budget update.  Though the series was based around the premise of a special forces team on the run that take jobs and travel around North and South America helping out villages and single mothers in distress, this 2010 film focuses entirely on the team trying to clear their name for a crime they didn't commit.  It also does something that the show never really explored, which was the origin story of the team itself, how they met and came together before they were framed.

This version of "The A-Team" starts with master tactician Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) and Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper) on a mission in Mexico.  When Face goes off mission (by having sex with the wife of their target) Hannibal is forced to change his plans, recruiting Sergeant Bosco "BA" Baracus (UFC fighter Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) for help.  After rescuing Face, they find themselves in need of a pilot, and manage to find just what they need with Captain James "Howlin' Mad" Murdock("District 9" star Sharlto Copley), a psych ward patient who just happens to be one of the best combat pilots in the world.

After a daring helicopter escape from Mexico, the film shifts eight years later to the deserts of Iraq, where the A-Team has become near-legendary for their ability to pull off any mission, no matter how ridiculous or difficult.  As the US military is pulling out of Baghdad, Hannibal is paid a visit from a CIA agent calling himself Lynch who recruits him to help steal a set of minting plates for US currency back from Saddam Hussein loyalists.  At the same time, Face's old flame Captain Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel) arrives to warn Face to stay out of the situation with the plates.  The team ignores her advice, and takes the mission, which goes ass-up when their commanding officer, General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) is killed and the plates stolen by a mercenary named Pike.

Framed for the death of Morrison and the theft of the plates, Hannibal and his team are stripped of rank and incarcerated.  Six months later, Lynch reappears and helps Hannibal bust out of prison and get the band back together.  Hannibal takes the help, but he knows better than to trust Lynch.  He quickly reassembles his team, and they set off to clear their names and retrieve the plates from Pike.  They're hunted from every angle by Sosa, Lynch and Pike, all of whom are making plays for the plates, and none of whom seem particularly interested in the truth.

In terms of tone, "The A-Team" feels a lot like 2009's "Star Trek" in that it's a fun, somewhat light-weight update of an old TV series.  The movie is fast and fun.  Though the plot won't win any awards, the chemistry between the characters is absolutely nailed.  These are four men who share an unbreakable bond, and who absolutely love being in each others' company.  There are plenty of callbacks to staples of the old TV series that make this feel very much like an "A-Team" adventure and not just some generic knock-off with the same name.  Flipping vehicles, construction montages, BA's fear of flying... it's all here.  The jokes and the banter fly fast and furious, making all this noisy chaos tons of fun.  (Sharp-eyed viewers may notice a nifty gag involving 'Reginald Barclay', the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" character played by Dwight Schulz... who played Murdock in the original "A-Team" series.  Schulz is listed in the film's credits along with Dirk Benedict, the original Face, but I failed to spot them in the movie.)

And fun is definitely the name of the game here.  "The A-Team" is not an action picture that will be going up for Best Picture this winter.  It's concerned entirely with delivering a series of action set pieces, each more ridiculous than the last, and loading it up with gleeful characters.  It's loud, it's noisy, and it's not even particularly deep.  Director Joe Carnahan does a good job of making sure the action is big, but fairly easy to follow.  A few times, things can get lost in shaky camera work, but for the most part, everything's pretty steady.  Alan Silvestri provides a bombastic if not overly memorable score, but isn't afraid to throw in the old "A-Team" theme at certain important moments that help bring in a blast of fun nostalgia.

Just like "Star Trek," "The A-Team" ends with all the pieces in place for a sequel.  And just like that film, I'm ready and eager for it.  I had a blast watching this movie.  I hope you do, too.