Movie Review: When Summer Needs Help, A-Team Answers the Call

The A-Team is big dumb fun, as it should be. This is a movie based on an over the top ’80’s TV show. It isn’t high art and it isn’t supposed to be, thankfully the film makers seem to be aware of this and have lots of fun with it. That isn’t to say it is the perfect summer popcorn flick, though in the weak summer of 2010, so far, it’s easily at the top of the heap up to this point in my estimation.

Serving as an origin story The A-Team opens in Mexico as a shadowy figure is pummeled by a couple of corrupt Federales.  Thus begins the introduction to the team that plenty of boys from the eighties, now grown men could easily name off the top of their head. The figure turns out to be none other than Col. John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson.) Next up is Sgt. B.A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus (UFC/MMA star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson). Apparently pulling his last car theft in Mexico who only wants one iconic thing back, said icon should put a smile on the face of fans of the show.  This leads us to Lt. Templeton “Face” Peck (Hangover Star Bradley Cooper) in trouble with the very target the team is after for sleeping with his wife. Once Hannibal and B.A. get Face out of his predicament they bring in their soon to be pilot. Enter H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, a supremely talented pilot that has more than a few screws loose. He is played with a madcap zany fun by the break out star of last summer’s surprise hit District 9 Sharlto Copley.

The movie goes a bit deeper, well as deep as one can for an over the top ’80’s show. The character introductions provide a bit more than even the pilot of the show did. We find out why B.A. has such a fear of flying. For the film’s A-Team one of the introductions is played more as a chance meeting than a planned event. They also get into the time before they became soldiers of fortune, this actually becomes the main plot to the film. I also found this a bit of a fault as during the setup I was a bit unclear as to who the bad guy(s) really were. Though going back and watching the pilot of the TV show it would have helped make it more clear (pro tip, the shows Pilot and quite a few episodes are on Hulu.) The writers of the film did a good job of updating the story to contemporary times and themes. Private Military Contractors and the war in Iraq is thrown into the mix in place of Vietnam.

As for the actors and their performances  just about all are spot on. No surprise given the talent of the cast. The only question most had coming into the film was how good of a job Rampage Jackson would do filling the very large boots of the iconic roll filled by Mr. T in the original show. The character seemed a bit more toned down in the film than he was in the TV show. No one can replace Mr. T, the icon. Rampage is easily the weakest link in the cast but given the talent he is surrounded with he more than had his work cut out for him. Gone is the iconic line of “I pity the fool”. It’s been replaced by *potential spoiler alert* tattoos on B.A.’s knuckles for pity on the left and fool on the right. *end spoiler alert*  Thankfully the tattoos are only shown once and not really used again. I found it to be a bit cheesy to show them in the first place, but it would turn out to be one of many attempts at humorous sight gags that fell flat for me due to feeling shoe horned in.

The film contains plenty of subtle winks and nods to the show to fill in for things that just wouldn’t make sense in the more modern world the film is set in. While “I Pity the Fool” is MIA another iconic line, specifically “I love it when a plan comes together” comes up several times. The A-Team also plays directly to the popular video game series Call of Duty: Modern Warfare playing to an audience that I would imagine is eager to see the film, going so far as to name drop the popular game series. The action pieces in the film are ridiculously over the top. The film seems very self aware of this and has lots of fun with this fact. This is where I feel The A-Team succeeds over the obvious comparison to The Losers early this year which seemed to hold back from going completely over the top and is where that film faltered.

While I found the first and second act of The A-Team to be well paced the third act nearly falters under the weight of trying to top the action set pieces of the first and second acts. The action really goes overboard (literally) and becomes a bit too much as it nears the end of it’s two hour running time. It didn’t quite feel too long but threatened to overstay it’s welcome and lost some of the charm and charisma it had carried with it up to that point.

In the so far flat summer of 2010 big, silly, explosive, over the top action films have been pretty lacking. Most have yet to strike that perfect balance of humor and action to really work. Thankfully a crack commando team has answered the call to fix the general malaise at movie theaters this summer and they can help. Their name is The A-Team.

I give The A-Team 3.5 “less gunpowder on my steak please” out of 5

By John Coovert

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