Review: The A-Team
I didn’t expect much from The A-Team. The recent run of films based on 70s and 80s TV shows (Charlie’s Angels, Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks, etc) runs the gamut from barely tolerable to abysmal, and I didn’t expect this to be much different. I found the original show amusing but cringingly campy and cheap. But, I had a free movie pass to burn and there was nothing else showing, so what the hell.
But The A-Team managed to succeed in the one area where I was hoping it would: it entertained the ever-loving hell out of me. From its early sequence onward, it managed to dispel my cinephile cynicism and whisk me along on its popcorn-littered summer ride, and I had a whole lot of fun. It won’t end up on many “Best Of” lists at the end of the year, but it is a more than worthy attraction in what has been a rather dull summer so far.
That the film works as well as it does it almost entirely due to the qaulity and commitment of the cast. The TV show was all about these characters, and as cliched and two-dimensional as they are, the actors make them easy to get behind and get you to enjoy just watching them shoot the shit with each other, so to speak. Liam Neeson brings his usual intelligent heft to the role of Hannibal Smith, the stalwart leader of the group. Bradley Cooper, love him or hate him, is perfect for the role of the dashingly narcissistic Faceman, and even ultimate fighter Rampage Jackson (clearly not an actor but clearly not caring) seems absolutely at ease in the shoes of Mr. T, exuding a genuine charisma as the musclebound B.A. Baracus.
But the standout of the cast is relative newcomer Shartlo Copley, who last year dazzled as the star of the sleeper hit District 9. Here, as lovable madman Murdoch, he get to further flex the comedic skills that he flashed a bit at the beginning of that previous film, and he displays an extreme likeability and sharp comic timing that could very easily make him a star. I hope that happens. His performance in District 9 is one of the best science fiction cinema has ever seen, and he brings the spark to this film that really makes it fun. Every scene he’s in becomes a damn good time at the movies.
The story, as you might expect, is fairly cookie-cutter and involves our heros hoping around the world trying to clear their names after escaping from wrongful imprisonment. It’s been done many times before, but who cares? In fact, that’s part of the film’s appeal. It’s a total throwback not so much to the cheesy TV show but to the men-on-a-mission action flicks on the late 80s and early 90s. The focus here is on these larger-than-life characters, not the mission they’re on, and the film is wise to keep the focus there.
For his part, director Joe Carnahan (Smokin Aces) shows a very solid competency at handling the action and shooting his characters much like the action stars of the 80s were shot. He knows that the appeal of his film is getting to watch badass guys do badass things, and he shoots his film accordingly, also displaying a welcome adherence to the more open old-school ways of shooting action sequences, letting his camera actually observe a scene rather than jump-cutting every .5 seconds.
In a summer that has shown a disconcerting shortage of thrills in its first couple months, The A-Team is a welcome bit of honest fun. It knows what you want out of it, and it delivers on those expectations, even if it doesn’t strive to do much more than that.