Film

The A-Team: Flying Tanks and Jolly Rangers

When the A-Team find themselves plummeting to earth in an M-1 tank, using the cannon to slow their descent, it would take a heart of stone not to find some spark of giggly enjoyment.


The A-Team

Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney, Brian Bloom
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2010
UK Release Date: 2010-07-30
US Release Date: 2010-06-11
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Trailer

After a while, you start wondering exactly how many more of these kind of movies Hollywood can do. Yesterday's disposable network television mainstay -- with all attendant foggily positive memories intact -- becomes today's disposable fodder for the summer blockbuster demolition derby. It makes sense in a way, with the studio's proven inability to create any new action franchises from whole cloth without reaching into the world of television, books, or amusement park rides (we're a long way from the days of Lethal Weapon), what else are they going to do?

All that being said, when the stars of The A-Team find themselves plummeting to earth in an M-1 tank from many thousands of feet in the air, their fall only barely slowed by one overtaxed parachute, and they begin blasting away with the cannon -- first to steer and then to slow their rate of descent -- it would take a heart of stone not to find some spark of giggly enjoyment.

Bereft of inspiration or not, Narc director Joe Carnahan's reboot of the 1980's Stephen J. Cannell series is a rare thing these days: the action flick that knows its limits; this is probably due to it not being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Certainly there are moments of Bruckheimer-itis here, with Carnahan's propensity for sunset-hued helicopter shots and an irritating Action Movie 101 score by Alan Silvestri. But Carnahan completely disregards the Bruckheimer bigger-is-better school of filmic thought. When these guys get into a jam, they tend to get out of it by being smarter and quicker, not simply willing to expend more ammunition and amass a higher body count.

In a prologue that includes just about every modern Mexico movie cliché imaginable -- corrupt cops, cackling mustachioed villains, sultry senoritas, and lavish usage of "gringo" (usually with more cackling) -- Carnahan puts his team together with a couple nods to the world of the TV show and then gets down to business.

A quartet of Rangers specializing in the most special of ops, the best in the business of course, we meet up with them years later on a forward operating base in Iraq, on the day that the American military is finally pulling out of the country. They're given one last mission, which ends up in them being framed for a crime they didn't commit, leaving the four to clear their names by any means necessary. After this commercial for Doritos, and a brief appearance by 1980's TV mainstay Gerald McRaney.

Carnahan gives each character their signature token, but doesn't waste much time in slavish fealty to a TV show that aimed itself squarely at the pre-adolescent male demographic, with all the requisite downgrades in complexity and subtlety. B.A. Baracus (UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, doing surprisingly credible work) has "PITY" and "FOOL" tattooed on his hands, and hates to fly. Murdoch (Sharlto Copley, playing Texan loony, but his South African accent clawing through repeatedly) has his very manageable looniness, and being a pilot, is provided numerous opportunities to infuriate B.A. Face (Bradley Cooper being Bradley Cooper) is the ladies' man, pure and simple. Their leader, Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson, proving he can show up just about anywhere and make it worth your while), faces life with a lit stogie and sly grin, as one should.

The story that Carnahan and his co-screenwriters Skip Woods and Brian Bloom (who also has a nice role as a sarcastically amoral villain) whipped up here is nothing short of ridiculous, assigning nearly God-like powers to these Rangers on the lam. But it moves with a sure-footed, but not frantic, speed that doesn't leave much time for such contemplation. Helping things along is the fact that so many of the people involved are clearly having the time of their lives, many scenes filled with nothing but light-hearted and inconsequential back-and-forth.

Hannibal, Face, and the rest crack so many smiles that you'd think serving in the U.S. Army was the most fun thing one could do with your life, while some of the villains chasing them -- like the fantastically deadpan Patrick Wilson as Lynch, an untrustworthy CIA operative (is there any other kind?) -- think it's all a hoot as well. Lynch cracks to an Army intelligence officer (Jessica Biel, whose military wardrobe allotment allows for plenty of stylishly sleek black outfits) who gripes about how the CIA doesn't have to play by the rules: "We've got rules. Ours are just cooler than yours."

Though any hint of verisimilitude in a film like this is never expected or desired, Carnahan includes enough nods to his quartet's Ranger esprit de corps that it makes their camaraderie that much more believable. The film also gets in a jab at private contractors, making their villains a band of gun-happy mercenaries from a Blackwater-like firm called Black Forest whom Hannibal sneers at: "You're assassins in polo shirts." It's a telling line: Carnahan isn't interested in just piling up more empty shell casings and dead extras, he'd rather put some heroic rogues up on the screen and watch them outwit and outthink everybody around them. That there isn't a "surprise" here that the audience can't see coming twenty minutes out doesn't diminish the film (much). These guys fly tanks, after all.

Now if they could just get around to making a summer action franchise out of Simon & Simon

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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