"In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team."
Those words bring back such fine memories of my youth. I grew up on shows like The A-Team and Knight Rider. There is nothing quite like action television in the 1980s. Bullets would fly, fists would be thrown, and cars would crash, but no one ever seemed to get hurt. At most there would be a delay long enough for our heroes to prepare the welcome wagon for whatever thugs were the villains of a given week.
Now we are faced with a big screen update of our beloved campy television series. On the surface it would seem to be a great idea. The concept of a commando team on the run from the government fighting the good fight certainly sounds like it would be good. Add to that a cast of heroes with distinct and entertaining personalities, and you cannot help but have the makings of a winner. So, do they succeed? Well, yes and no.
Let's start with the good. The cast is perfect. They may not be the original four, but they do a fine job of filling their shoes. Liam Neeson has the smooth cockiness and intelligence to lead the team as Col. John "Hannibal" Smith. Bradley Cooper has that ladies man swagger down pat as Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck. Sharlto Copley brings a wild-eyed craziness to Mad Dog Murdock. Finally, UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson steps into the shoes of Mr. T as BA Baracus; he has big shoes to fill and, while there can never be another Mr. T, Jackson does an admirable job of taking up the BA mantle.
The cast is only one part of getting them right. The screenplay, by Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods, ensures that each of our characters personality quirks get their due time on the screen. The attention to detail between script and performance make this movie a heck of a lot of fun. Seriously, if you are a fan of the series and have a hankering for some nostalgia, this movie may be right up your ally.
Another positive is that we get to see how the team came together, how they first met, how they worked so well together, and how they were set up and sent to prison only to break out. True, it is a little different than the accepted series canon (which I am not quite sure of), but it needed to be updated to fit the modern world. The transplant in time leaves them none the worse for wear as we get to see Hannibal lead his team out of prison and on a mission to clear their names. The movie does not present them as the soldiers for hire they are to become, but it provides a solid base of where they were and how their circumstances changed.
The A-Team does a fine job of showing off the characters, proving they can be pulled off by other actors in a modern film and their story translated to the present. The problem is that it seems like all of the focus went on getting the characters right that when it came to the actual plot we are left with a cursory action vehicle that cares little about developing anything so long as we can get to the next action bit/character quirk piece.
Yes, the story was a let down. Here is the nutshell: In Afghanistan the A-Team is sent on a mission to retrieve stolen money printing plates. They return to find they are being set up. They are tried and imprisoned, escape, and set about clearing their names by finding the real bad guys and avoiding the military forces set to bring them in. It is a clear-cut story that is easy to follow and generally makes sense. The problem is that it doesn't really do anything more than serve to string the action sequences.
I am not against a movie that is about the stunts and action more than the plot, and I cannot say I expected this to be a plot driven tale. I was just hoping for more than what I got. Rather than a movie that used nostalgia to fuel a push forward, I say this is a movie that was content to rely on the nostalgia to carry it. The end result being a movie that is fun, but ultimately forgettable.
Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan was the right man for the job. I just wish his writing and his eye would meet somewhere in the middle, stepping up the story game while toning down the "style." This movie was edited within an inch of its life. There were so many cuts that the action became muddled and hard to follow.
Bottomline. This could have been really good; instead it was merely fun. That is not a bad thing; they got some things right. The main four are a lot of fun. The cartoonish nature works to its advantage, but this project could have been so much more. Still, go ahead, check it out, you will likely have a good time and want to watch some of the original series again. I know I did.