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The A-Team

Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copely, Jessica Biel, Quintin "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson

(US DVD: 14 Dec 2010)

You know the story of behind the iconic ‘80s action television program, The A-Team.  A group of ex-army fugitives, who were wrongfully convicted of a crime mind you, travel around the countryside in a sweet black van, having adventures, and helping out folks in need.  They stand up for the little guy when no one else will. 


Joe Carnahan’s 2010 big screen version of The A-Team is a throwback nostalgia piece that functions as an origin story, or prequel to use the parlance of our times, rather than a straight adaptation.  While the series throws us into the middle of the titular team’s soldier of fortune exploits, A-Team: The Movie imagines how the four primary characters met, bonded, honed their craft, and ultimately wound up as the subject of a wide-scale federal manhunt. 


The A-Team is not a great movie, but there are a number of things that not only make it watchable, but also make it fun.  Granted, it’s ridiculous and over the top, and sure, Face (Bradley Cooper) shoots down a predator drone from the turret of a tank that has been dropped out of a plane that the drones just shot down.  No one will argue that The A-Team doesn’t dabble in the absurd, but then again, so did the show.  You’ll remember an episode where the team jerry rigged a cannon that shot some sort of pink, saltwater taffy type of substance, which completely overwhelmed a group of heavily armed bad guys.  So, if you didn’t go in expecting a healthy dose of the preposterous, you probably didn’t watch the show all that much.


Carnahan, who wrote and directed the movie, doesn’t waste any time.  There is little space left between action sequences, and that brief respites are filled with fast-paced banter and wise cracks.  This strategy serves the film well, since it doesn’t leave time for you to get bored and think too hard.  Otherwise you might discover things like plot holes, gaps in logic, and questions of motivation.  A slower movie would have run into problems in these areas, but The A-Team simply whisks you past such roadblocks with an unapologetic grin.


What really seals the deal for The A-Team is the cast.  The actors are surprisingly highbrow for a movie like this, especially when compared to all of the horror movie reboots that keep popping up, and their performances are spot on.  Liam Neeson, as Hannibal, channels George Peppard, and gets to utter his signature line, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  Cooper is pitch perfect as Face.  His smart-ass, cocky, d-bag charm is exactly what that role requires.  You want to hate him, but can’t.  Former UFC light heavyweight champ, Quintin “Rampage” Jackson, is adequate as B.A. Baracas.  Let’s be honest, though Mr. T is a cultural icon he was never renowned for his acting acumen.  Sharlto Copley rounds out the team as H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, the high-functioning lunatic pilot of all things airborne, and a few things that were never intended to fly.


Beyond the central figures, the whole movie is well cast. Patrick Wilson has a blast as the scummy, two-timing CIA Agent, Lynch.  He plays the part with the gleeful swagger of a frat boy on spring break, making frequent use of the word “awesome”, comparing his job to Call of Duty, and steals every scene he’s in.  Brian Bloom, as Hannibal’s nemesis, Pike, a private security specialist, Gerald McRaney, and Jessica Biel, round out the call sheet.


The A-Team is a loud, eye-catching, blockbuster action movie.  Better than most, though not as good as others, in the end it delivers exactly what it promises, a fun way to pass a few hours, and is nothing beyond that.  There are enough nods to the TV show to satisfy long-time fans, and it certainly captures the feel and aesthetic of the source material in a nice balance between reminiscence and entertainment.


The DVD is most noteworthy because it includes two versions of the film, the theatrical release, and an unrated cut.  While some of the reinserted scenes are nice touches, most of them were unnecessary and don’t add much.  Carnahan’s commentary track is also a welcome addition.  His infectious enthusiasm for his film comes through, and he definitely has a good time discussing the mechanics of how a big Hollywood production can make Vancouver, B.C. look like the Mexican desert.

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Brent McKnight lives in Seattle, and is working feverishly to finish his degree in creative writing through the University of New Orleans Low-Residency MFA Program. His thesis is a post-apocalyptic, zombie, spaghetti western, much to the chagrin of most of his advisors. He likes dogs, beards, and Steven Seagal, and rants about movies at thelastthingisee.blogspot.com and BeyondHollywood.com. Recently he fulfilled a lifelong goal, appearing as an extra in a zombie movie.


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