Monday, June 14, 2010

The A-Team (2010)

Like the best of the brainless summer popcorn flicks, The A-Team is really smart about being dumb. It’s the kinda film where director (and co-writer) Joe Carnahan can place his heroes in a tank parachuting away from an exploding airplane, allow them to use it to fend off attacking military drones, and then give them the tools to “fly” it to a safe, comic landing. It’s as implausibly absurd as anything you’ll ever see, and yet it plays as consistent, undeniable, care-free blockbuster fun.

The same can largely be said of The A-Team itself, the latest in a retro-trend of slapdash 80s entertainment. Conceptually, Carnahan’s flick shouldn’t be any better than this spring’s The Losers, or last summer’s G.I. Joe – it features an assembled team of military talents and cinematic personalities gleefully and violently trotting across the globe to battle big bads with powerful connections. And yet it IS better than those films, by large margins, and primarily because of the talent on both side of the camera.

The A-Team, if you recall, was a hit 80s TV series about ex-military vigilantes globetrotting against evil in the name of good ole American values and justice. Weekly adventures were full of battles with the likes of drug cartels, escapes from the corrupt/mislead government hunting them down, wisecracking jokesters and ridiculous schemes. The movie holds true to this formula. Very true. For fans of the original, it should feel like a trip back to your favorite theme park, only with bigger and better rides. For newbies, you get a dose of the big action/big smiles combo that made this silly idea a cheeseball hit.

The A-Team is a small screen story blown-up for big screen audiences, and for once this is a good thing. It never takes itself seriously enough to create stakes or emotional investment, but in many ways this feels like what the show always should have been.

What it lacks in weight it makes up for in fun. This being an origin story, we meet team leader Hannibal (Liam Neeson) as he assembles his squadron on the fly. He’s in Mexico rescuing Face (Bradley Cooper), the resident smooth operator who isn't always smooth enough. On the way he meets tough-guy B.A. (ultimate fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, finding Mr. T’s shoes a surprisingly comfortable fit), and enlists him for some action. To escape, he brakes the pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley) out of a mental facility. 8 years and 800 successful missions later, they’re in Iraq, getting set up for a crime they didn’t do.

That of course is pretty close to the premise of the series, and the film sets the team down their vigilante road. Patrick Wilson steps in as a cocky, international double-crosser. Jessica Biel plays the government agent hot on their tail…although honestly, she’s really just here to look hot. This is a male-friendly brand name, after all.

Carnahan directs this testosterone circus gleefully, like a kid with million dollar cameras and dreams in his eyes. He broke through with grit (2002’s Narc) and broke big with style (2006’s Smokin’ Aces), but he’s always been a maverick filmmaker (dig his dig at 3-D in a great comedic bit), even when tethered by studio chains. If you wanna zero in on The A-Team’s ability to best the G.I. Losers, he’s the place to start.

The rest of the pizzazz comes from the cast. Copley hit the scene with a splash in last year’s District 9, with the kind of performance that made you wonder where the hell he’s been all these years. He’s an unstable hoot as Murdock, an expert casting choice mirrored by Jackson and Cooper. Only two years ago, this was a job a long way from their reach. Now they’ve hit it big, and their accomplishments feel contagious.

Neeson’s Hannibal is the weakest, non-Jessica Biel role. Neeson kicked ass and kicked it hard in last year’s Taken, but his time here is as dry as it was in Star Wars Episode I. Faulty writing is like faulty wiring – sometimes the juices just aren’t flowing.

In the face of the fun at large, it’s a forgivable flaw. Wild and geeky in all the most popular ways, The A-Team is confident in the purity of its fandom – you can kick it in the teeth, and it’ll still grin. It knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and that is precisely the reason that it succeeds. And it’ll dare you to say it doesn’t.

Updated Summer Blockbuster Smackdown Standings:

1.) The A-Team

2.) Iron Man 2

3.) Get Him to the Greek

4.) Prince of Persia

5.) Shrek 4


Amy said...

A few months ago I would have bet money that Losers would have been the better movie. But after being disappointed by that movie, seeing better clips of A-Team and reading this... I now bet the other way. Consider this blog entry "liked"!

JMoCrow said...

For the most part, I agree with you...but I think you fail to point out how slow this movie feels at times. While you say the lack of emotional attachment is a result of not taking itself too seriously, I say this is actually its downfall. Perhaps if I had simply cared more for these characters (individually and as a unified group), I would have felt more invested and more engaged throughout. Instead, it just dragged in parts. That being said, there were some KICK-ASS scenes that partially made up for the slow parts. And let's not forget to mention Bradley Cooper's body in this!

DubMC said...

Thanks, Amy! Can't say i didn't warn you about Losers...

JMoCrow - It didn't feel as slow to me, but I agree with your analysis. Had they done a little bit more with the characters as people and not just ass-kicking comedians, the flick would have been even better.


Related Posts with Thumbnails