Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team

A_team_poster_10 We talked about this movie briefly on our podcast last Sunday, but for some reason all of you don’t listen to it, and I think it’s really necessary that as many people know how I feel about The A-Team as is possible.

Anyway, I’m pretty much at peace with big dumb action movies. I’m normally quick to find flaws in my pop-culture – I started being disappointed in Battlestar Galactica months or even years before my friends, and I recently wrote an angry nerd-post on my Internet Web Log about how I didn’t think The Office was that good this season. The Star Trek franchise (sans-Enterprise) is really my only blind spot.

Enter The A-Team. My siblings and I were big fans of the original 1980s television show as kids, watching the reruns whenever they came onto TV Land. I went to the theater expecting exactly what I got – The A-Team is a fairly faithful modernization of the old TV show that features enough action, humor, and explosions to keep an A-Team neophyte entertained for the duration of its two-hour running time.

The basic premise follows that of the television show, shifted some thirty years into the future – the movie still features a team of highly talented crack commandos accused of a crime they didn’t commit, but they’re Iraq War veterans instead of Vietnam veterans. Um, that’s really the main difference.

Hannibal (Liam Neeson) is the cigar smoking leader who loves it when a plan comes together. Face (the gorgeous Bradley Cooper) is the sexy con artist who has a way with the ladies. “Howling Mad” Murdoch (Sharlto Copley, the District 9 guy) is an expert pilot who just happens to be clinically insane (or is he?!), and B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) is the badass muscle who drives a mean van, pities fools, and ain’t getting on no plane.

As the show’s theme song stipulates, the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit: In the last days of the Iraq War (this is definitely fiction, guys), it is discovered that Bad Guys have copies of plates used to print $100 bills. Hannibal and his crew are secretly charged with recovering these plates, but just when they’re about to reap the rewards of a well-come-together plan, their commanding officer gets blown up and some nasty guys from a military contractor abscond with the plates. So topical!

Of course, the only guy who could verify that the A-Team were picking up the plates legitimately was the now-fried commanding officer, so our heroes are accused of working with the plate-thieves. They’re tried in a military court, stripped of their rank, and thrown into separate maximum-security federal prisons.

Six months later, with the help of a mysterious CIA agent named Lynch (Patrick Wilson), Hannibal busts everybody out and they set out to retrieve the plates and clear their names. Meanwhile, Jessica Biel attempts to apprehend them and also totally makes out with Face. Oops! Spoiler alert!

The best part of the movie, hands-down, is the casting, which as 2012 showed us can make or break a big stupid action movie. Each member of the team evokes his TV counterpart while bringing his own flavor to the role. Biel is acceptable as The Girl, but the true highlight is Lynch – he’s both menacing and funny, and he deserves credit for doing both convincingly. Just in case you’re not convinced of the casting director’s chops, be on the lookout for a brief Jon Hamm walk-on (referred to in the industry as a “Hammeo”) toward the end.

Slightly less praiseworthy is the film’s overall clarity – one always gets the feeling that something is happening, even if you’re sometimes not sure what that is. This is particularly bad during the action scenes, where the sound of action mostly obscures the characters' lines and the shaky-cam obscures their movements. You’ll also have to suspend your disbelief while the Team’s unbelievably intricate heists unfurl, and make a couple leaps in logic to make the plot make sense.

But isn’t this all par for the course for a summer action movie? Yes, pretty much. The A-Team is certainly not one of the best movies ever made, and based on how it’s doing it may be the rare rebooted properly that doesn’t spawn at least two sequels. Still if you ever liked the TV show, or if you just want to see a fun movie with explosions, I can recommend it without too many reservations.

Overall rating: 56 Congos.