Photo by Photo by: Michael Muller
The A-Team (PG-13)
3 out of 4 stars
Based on the wildly popular '80s TV series of the same name, "The A-Team" is a loud and raucous summer popcorn movie that pulls off something of a minor miracle. A throwback of sorts, it reminds us of a time when action movies weren't drenched in blood, unnecessarily profane, sexually overt or dumb as a sack of hammers.
It's also one of those films that sticks closes to the original source without copying it and will appeal to both fans and non-fans of the show. Even though it's rated "PG-13," it is safe for kids and adults who don't want to think too much. Clocking in at just over two hours, it occasionally stumbles, almost wears out its breezy welcome and all but guarantees a sequel.
The first of the many pluses was the choice of co-writer/director Joe Carnahan to provide back stories for the four leads -- something the show never did. As we find out in the 15-minute opening title sequence, strategist/leader Hannibal (Liam Neeson), wing man Face (Bradley Cooper), muscle-man B.A. (Quinton Jackson) and the flipped-out pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley) all cut their teeth as Army Rangers in the first Iraqi War. This establishes an immediate, brothers-in-arms bond that allows the men to regroup after their frequent, often petty infighting.
After almost a decade of successful missions and gaining the reputation of being efficient yet loosey-goosey covert operators, the A (for Alpha) team is in Iraq again and are being called on by Army higher-ups to go to Baghdad and retrieve missing treasury plates. It's refreshing that for once the McGuffin in an action movie is something other than money, stolen art or weapons.
Hardly breaking a sweat, the A-Team accomplishes the task but also appear to have been double-crossed by one or more government agents. The presence of four possible antagonists (one of whom is played with brooding menace by co-writer Brian Bloom) is two more than the story really needed and at least one of them could have been excised.
Keenly recognizing the desires of his core demographic (young adult males), Carnahan regularly goes a little nuts with the cut and slash editing and presents every female character as if they were about to do a Victoria's Secret photo shoot. Appearing only once in a regular service uniform as a captain, Jessica Biel is seen mostly in form-fitting, low cut blouses and skirts that certainly wouldn't meet military code. While all the ladies are quite easy on the eyes, the lust/fantasy factor they bring sometimes negates the story's plausibility.
Carnahan makes up for his frequent pandering with a nifty visual device that is unusual in an action flick. Instead of showing the typical setups for ensuing action scenes, Carnahan intercuts and overlaps them. Future events that are being discussed by the team in the planning sessions take place at the same time on the screen. In addition to making everything easier to follow, it allows the filmmakers to get a little artsy without anyone really noticing.
It goes without saying that the casting of the actors portraying their iconic TV counterparts was crucial to the film's success and sadly Carnahan only got three out of four correct. Not surprisingly, the always classy and dependable Neeson was a masterstroke. He abandons his sometimes rigid delivery in favor of something much warmer and humorous.
Despite his sometimes lacking thespian skills, Cooper was a perfect choice for the lounge-lizard Face. Sporting his trademark stubble and often appearing shirtless, Cooper milks his beefcake/stud image for all it's worth.
Proving his bravura lead performance in "District 9" was no fluke, the Steve Carell lookalike Copley is an absolute stitch throughout with his imitation of Mel Gibson in "Braveheart" being the topper.
Although he bears a passing resemblance to Mr. T, Jackson isn't able to parlay his skills as a mixed-martial arts performer and boxing champion to the big screen. Virtually every line of dialogue he utters cannot be understood and he is sorely lacking the needed sass the character requires. If there is indeed a sequel, the first thing the producers should do is replace Jackson. (Fox)