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Should I Watch..? The A-Team
What's the big deal?
The A-Team is an action comedy film released in 2010 and is based on the much loved Eighties TV show of the same name. The film stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Sharlto Copley as four military mercenaries who escape from prison in order to clear their names. The film, which had been stuck in development hell since the mid-Nineties, was co-written and directed by Joe Carnahan. Despite fairly mixed reaction from critics when it was released, the film went on to generate over $177 million in revenue which was considered disappointing by distributors 20th Century Fox. Although the main cast and Carnahan have expressed interest in returning for a possible sequel, it would appear that such a film is not forthcoming any time soon due to lack of interest from anyone else.
What's it about?
Eight years after escaping from a renegade general in Mexico, US Ranger John "Hannibal" Smith is operating in Iraq with the rest of his team - Templeton "Faceman" Peck, B.A. Baracus and pilot Howling Mad Murdock. Approached by a CIA agent named Lynch, Hannibal and his men are recruited for a black ops mission to retrieve stolen US Treasury plates and $1 billion from a group of Iraqi insurgents. With the mission authorised by General Morrison, they manage to return successfully but things take a sudden twist as the vehicles carrying the money and Morrison are blown up by Brock Pike and members of his private security firm. Framed for stealing the loot in the first place, the four men are arrested.
Six months later and Hannibal is visited once again by Lynch who tells him that Pike is trying to sell the plates with the help of an Arab backer. Hannibal does a deal with Lynch - if they can stop Pike and recover the plates, he and his men are given full pardons and clean records. Lynch agrees and before long, Hannibal is reunited with Faceman, B.A. and Murdock and they set off to recover the plates. But behind them every step of the way is Faceman's former girlfriend and DCIS lieutenant Charissa Sosa who is determined to keep the men behind bars for good.
John "Hannibal" Smith
Templeton "Faceman" Peck
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Bosco "B.A." Baracus
Captain H.M. Murdock
General Russell Morrison
Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom & Skip Woods *
Release Date (UK)
30th July, 2010
Action, Comedy, Thriller
What's to like?
The A-Team was never a seriously violent show - it was goofy and mostly family friendly as none of the bad guys were ever killed (only five characters were ever killed on screen over the show's five seasons). So it should come as no surprise that the action in The A-Team is also elevated to truly ridiculous levels, encapsulated by the A-Team's escape from a crashing plane in a tank that happens to have several parachutes. Younger viewers will probably enjoy the lunacy but personally, I wondered why they'd turned the show into a moronic physics lesson.
The show also had a strong comedic element with all four principal actors contributing, especially Dwight Schultz as Murdock. Accordingly, the script for the movie pauses long enough in between set pieces to allow some banter between the four actors here. Jackson acquits himself well enough in a role that is so strongly associated with Mr T and sure enough, he and Copley exchange moments reminiscent of the show. But it feels half-hearted and disingenuous, as though they were afraid of disrespecting the show's still-loyal fan-base. Such fears, I suspect, are well founded.
- Baracus has the words "Pity" and "Fool" on his knuckles, as a tribute to Mr T's catchphrase from Rocky III (1). Contrary to popular belief, Mr T never actually said "I pity the fool" in the show but in a press conference during Sly's boxing sequel.
- Dirk Benedict, who played Faceman in the original show, regretted making a cameo appearance in the movie and apparently refuses to watch the film version.
- Early in the film, Hannibal refers to Pike as a cartoon character. Brian Bloom, who plays Pike, has spent most of his acting career as a voice-over artist for cartoon and video game performances.
What's not to like?
None of the cast really delivers a knock-out performance which prevents the film from getting out of first gear. They try very hard to match the over-the-top antics of the show but the film falls dreadfully short of being anything like as enjoyable. The action, which is typical of screenwriter Skip Woods (who was also behind the likes of Hitman (2), A Good Day To Die Hard (3) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (4)), is utterly devoid of logic, reason and cohesion - it's very noisy and hastily edited together but you have no real idea what's going on. And not just in the action scenes - the story disappears from view quicker than a rat up a drainpipe (even the film's Wikipedia page sounds like it's clutching at straws) and anyone who isn't a member of the A-Team is utterly forgettable and frankly, a target.
The problem is the very concept of the project itself. The A-Team is such an iconic Eighties show that rebooting it in modern times simply feels wrong. What they should have done is retain the Eighties setting - imagine how old-fashioned Starsky & Hutch (5) would have felt if Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller were driving their Ford Torino through cardboard boxes in the 21st century. Even the characters are essentially Eighties throwbacks - was there anyone more definitively of the decade than Mr T and his 40 lbs of gold around his neck? Jackson was never going to fit the role as well and the same is arguably true of the others. Copley isn't as funny as Schultz was, Cooper doesn't feel like he fits in the film at all while Neeson's performance is a poor imitation of George Peppard. The whole thing feels... well, unnecessary.
Should I watch it?
Anyone too young to remember the original show will certainly enjoy the film more than those of us looking back through our rose-tinted spectacles. Its goofy action and interesting band of military misfits makes The A-Team a mildly distracting and slightly stupid action film. But a warning to those who recall the famous theme tune, the opening narration and the iconic logo riddled with bullets - this is a film that will make you shed real tears of pain.
Great For: anyone with no exposure to the original show, ADHD sufferers, anyone who prefers explosions to exposition
Not So Great For: fans of the show, nostalgic viewers, anyone waiting for a decent TV-show-based movie to come along...
What else should I watch?
The wait goes on for a decent movie based on a TV show. The likes of Bewitched (6), Charlie's Angels (7), The Avengers (8), Lost In Space (9) and many others have all tried and failed to crack the box office. I suspect that viewers are a big more savvy that producers would acknowledge - after all, who is going to pay to watch a different version of their favourite TV show, just because it's on a bigger screen?
If you haven't got access to The A-Team boxset then there are plenty of movies to sate your appetite for crazy, implausible, high octane hijinks. Crank (10) is a full-throttle excuse in mindless violence and bad taste, Taken (11) sees Liam Neeson in a very darker light indeed without scrimping on the fisticuffs while superhero films can now enjoy all their costumed idols in one place thanks to Marvel's epic Avengers Assemble (12).
© 2015 Benjamin Cox