The A-Team Review

1 07 2010

After a lengthy sabbatical, a remake of all things 80’s recharges my batteries.

Yes, I’ve been away. And ok, the site’s been pretty much dead for a month and a half. It’s not like I haven’t watched anything (though I haven’t watched much, with the exception of Get Him to the Greek, which was funny as shit) or played anything (I’ve played some games thanks to GameFly; if you haven’t played Splinter Cell: Conviction, check it out). Let’s just say it’s been a bit of a dark time for the Rebellion, and we’ll have to leave it at that.

The guys on the floor? Yeah, that's been me lately.

I have bemoaned remakes and reboots on this very site with great venom and vitriol, and I still hold to that. The glut of unoriginal material at the theater depresses me. Though for the most part re-treading the same stuff we loved 10-20 years ago is completely unnecessary, there are exceptions to the rule of shitty remakes, but they mostly come from the horror genre.

Dawn of the Dead: Though it lacked the social satire of Romero’s original, Snyder’s 2007 re-dux was still an intense, taut zombie thriller that is a worthy addition to the genre.

Friday the 13th: They could have just tacked “part 11” onto it, and no one would have noticed. A great pre-titles scene and some decent kills make up for the fact that they made Jason Voorhees a redneck vigilante pot farmer protecting his crop.

Star Trek: Technically a continuation of the film/TV series, a new cast and new universe puts this firmly in the reboot category in my book, and injected Trek with something it’s been in dire need of: a sense of humor.

The Karate Kid: Just kidding. I don’t care if it IS good, and Jaden Smith wins the Academy Award for best nepotism in a starring vehicle, fuck the producers for not having the balls to call it The Kung-Fu Kid in America. THERE IS NO KARATE IN THE MOVIE WHATSOEVER.

"Americans are stupid!"

Well, you can add The A-Team to the list of good ideas. Initially I balked at the idea of a big-budget Hollywood remake of a show that I loved as a kid, but upon re-watching an episode or two I realized something disturbing: the show doesn’t really hold up. It’s derivative and hokey, with a bad case of Voltron syndrome: the team is hired to help some poor schmuck, lots of guns are fired with no bloodshed, and in the end they build some ridiculous contraption that bursts from a shed/barn/garage and saves the day. Mr. T throws someone, Murdock makes a wacky quip, Face pimps, and Hannibal lights a cigar. Roll the credits.

The only fool I pity is Mr. T for wearing that feather earring.

The show is beloved because the characters were great, not because it was any good. And therein lies what I think is the key to a successful remake or reboot: the original has to be a good idea/concept that was flawed in its first incarnation. No one remakes Gone with the Wind, or The Princess Bride, or The Godfather, or Jaws, because there’s no point. There’s nothing you could do with those films to make them better. But a show like The A-Team is perfect fodder for a talented director (in this case, Joe Carnahan, of Narc and Smoking Aces) to run wild with the concept while staying true to the characters. Thus, a cheesy 80’s action show becomes a ridiculously over-the-top (in the good way) joy ride with characters that are both familiar and fresh at the same time.

“Familiar and fresh” sounds like a deodorant ad. Something these sweat hogs should look into. Did they all just get out of a swimming pool?

The A-Team is basically the 1 minute intro to the original show in 2 hour form. Master planner Colonel Hannibal Smith (ably played by Liam Neeson, desperately trying to hide his Irish brogue and failing most of the time) gathers a small team of current and former Army Rangers through circumstance, who then go on to become the most successful covert ops unit during the Iraq war (the second one). The team is, of course: ladies man and uber-pimp Templeton “Face Man” Peck (Bradley Cooper, turning the smarmy charm up to 11); expert driver, fix-it man and pitier of fools Bosco (yes, Bosco) “B.A.” Baracus (Quinton “Rampage Jackson, the real surprise of the film); and Captain H. M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, the lunatic pilot (Sharlto Copley, whom after this and District 9 is quickly becoming a favorite actor of mine). A shady CIA agent called Lynch (Patrick Wilson, who played Nite-Owl in Watchmen) tasks Smith and his team with recovering minting plates from remnant Iraqi forces, against the orders of a Department of Defense spook Sosa (Jessica Biel, in an impressively not-eye-candy role) and the whole op goes south thanks to some Blackwater-type goons and a double-cross. Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdock are court-martialed and sent to separate prisons, until Lynch comes to offer Hannibal the chance to clear their names and get some good old-fashioned payback.

Even Major Dad is involved, somehow. I dunno, I had 4 Cape Cods before I saw this movie. O’Charley’s happy hour FTW, baby!

As muddled as all of that sounds, it works thanks to a cast that is having a great time, and the light tone Carnahan injects into the whole affair gives that sense of fun that is so lacking in movies lately. The action is impressive without being bloody (I could probably count the number of on-screen deaths on my hands), and the cast has a real chemistry with each other. As I said after the movie, everyone just acted like regular dudes unfazed by extraordinary circumstances, the dialogue was fast-paced but natural, and I was grinning like an idiot the whole time. It’s not perfect; there’s some grade-A ham in this for sure (sadly, Neeson bears the majority of it), but all of the bad is quickly glossed over with a joke, a laugh, or a crazy stunt. The set pieces are clearly presented without all of the seizure-inducing quick cutting that most hack action directors fall back on because they don’t know how to stage a fight scene. Carnahan does, and when B.A. finally throws somebody in the climactic fight (kinda) you can’t help but cheer.

We get a nice master shot like this, not some shots of their feet, then their eyes, then their guns. And what is B.A. looking at? He's all like "ooh, hamburgers!"

Going in, I knew most of the cast would acquit itself well. What I wasn’t so sure of was some UFC guy playing a part that was tailor-made for Mr. T. My fear was that he would either be too bland, or a caricature of an iconic role. Instead, what Quinton Jackson did was bring a whole lot of humanity to B.A. Baracus. He’s given reasons for his behavior, his attitude, even his haircut, and though it could have turned out poorly, Jackson is just so damn likeable as B.A. that his weakness as the least experienced actor in the cast rarely shows. I hate to say it, but this B.A. Baracus is an improvement over the original, as the original was just Mr. T being himself, and now he’s a fully fleshed out character. Another surprise was Patrick Wilson as Lynch, a corrupt CIA agent (apparently there is no other kind, it’s like they hire straight out of Shitty-People-R-Us) with a quick wit and plans laid upon plans. His portrayal is so natural, his dialogue so funny, that I started looking forward to every scene he was in. Jessica Biel, in a role normally relegated to mere exposition and T and A, does a nice job of making a thankless character more than one-note, though it’s clear even to her that this is a boy’s club movie and she’s just the hot girl.

She's just waiting for her turn to speak.

Something I mentioned earlier, but I think needs a bit more clarification, is the relative bloodlessness of it. Sure, people get beaten up, and some die, but mostly they’re just blown-up. This isn’t to say the movie isn’t violent or feels neutered, if you go back and watch the original show, very few people were shot on-screen back then, either. This didn’t bother me in the least. It was honestly kind of refreshing, especially with the current trend of bloody, graphic gunfights and gory executions in action films that tend to come off a cheap and exploitative. Not that I don’t think there isn’t a place for that sort of thing; I just don’t think that this particular film needed it. Director Joe Carnahan proved with Smoking Aces that he isn’t afraid of the “ol’ hyper-violence”, and I was quite pleased to see him not fall back on that for The A-Team. This isn’t a gritty thriller, it’s a popcorn flick, and it’s just as exciting to watch things and people go boom as much as it would be to see B.A. mow down rows of bad guys with an assault rifle.

400 bullets per clip, no casualties. Weren’t the eighties great?

I really had a great time watching The A-Team. It was funny, exciting, and hit all of the right notes for me. Though not perfect by any means, it’s a hell of a good time, even if you weren’t a fan of the TV show. And if you were, don’t worry, it doesn’t touch your childhood inappropriately (any more than your childhood wants it to).

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

P.S. Holy shit, Predators looks more and more awesome with every trailer I see for it.

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