Let’s have an honest moment here. Do you really think in your little heart of hearts that there is a way to make an A-Team movie that critics will positively review?
Every professional worth his popcorn butter is going to excoriate any movie based on any 1980’s franchise - whether he enjoyed it or not - in order to avoid being sneered out of the business. Even if the A-Team found life, laughter, and love as they freed a small African village from a warlord and themselves from their own regrets, they would never win an Oscar. Ever.
So a smart person would ignore every professional critique of this movie.
Fortunately, I am not a professional.
Guys – do you like for stuff to blow up good? Do you enjoy your action with a dollop of creativity stirred in and served with a side of wit? Do you like watching monkeys dressed up as people? You will find two of those things here.
Whenever a T.V. series or toy line or breakfast cereal makes it onto the big screen, it always starts with an origin story no matter how much the public consciousness is already steeped in its mythology. The A-Team is no exception, but it adds an interesting twist missing from your childhood memories: not only does it detail how and why and exactly wherefore the lovable team of misfits got screwed, but also how they met in the first place. Amazingly, it’s pretty organic given the material they had to work with. Ignore the plot holes.
The film fast-forwards past a few years of implied successes by the group and we catch up with them on the eve of their bescrewment. The scene goes out of its way to show their camaraderie and how the dynamic of the group works. Face is Hannibal’s direct protégé, full of talent but too rash and self-absorbed to account for every eventuality. Murdock gets on B.A.’s nerves at times with his unending antics, but Mr. noT sees the loon sort of as a quirky little brother with whom to alternate joking around and pushing around. They’re a covert team, but somehow everyone in the army and half the Iraqis know and respect them. Ignore the plot holes.
So the Big Screw turns as it must and the fellas get imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. The crime was...uh...killing a general, or stealing some money-engraving plates, or murdering Jon Benet Ramsey, or just going on some unauthorized mission or something. That mission involved some crazy scheme to steal back some money-engraving plates, done covertly despite the entire army knowing about the activity and who was doing it and where they were doing it and that the bad guys posed a direct, unqualified threat to our national sovereignty. The flimsy excuse for bringing in the Wacky Pack was that Hannibal claimed they could pull it off without bloodshed or collateral damage. There was, by the way, lots of bloodshed and collateral damage. (This ain’t Ocean’s Eleven.) Ignore the plot holes.
Then they break out of prison to clear their names. They, you know, do stuff – a whole lot of stuff – to get back the plates and find who killed the general. You’re thinking, “Why would that clear their names if they were only convicted of insubordination, which they actually committed?” Stop thinking. IGNORE THE PLOT HOLES.
If you’re actually on the fence about seeing this movie, then you want to know two things: a.) is it good at all, and b.) is it faithful to the admittedly shallow original?
Let’s answer the second one first for no reason. The team gets screwverized, and runs around making zany plans come together with the help of the occasional confabulated contraption. Check. They spend this movie trying to help themselves instead of pretty ladies in various forms of distress, but that’s to be expected in an origin story.
Fanboys, bate your collected breaths – the cast does in fact manage to pull it off. Liam Neeson is actually the weak point in the ensemble since his coolness takes a hit every time he wrestles his own accent. (Also, not to nitpick, but he holds his cigar like a mincing queen.) I can’t imagine a better Face than Bradley Cooper, and Sharlto Copley’s tinny voice-mugging slowly won my begrudging heart in the role of my childhood idol Madman Murdock. Most importantly of all, people thought this movie couldn’t be made, or would certainly exist as its own autonomous circle of Hell, because of the absence of Mr. T. But I will be damned if they didn’t manage to find just the right fit for him in “Rampage” Jackson; they even go so far as to explain the B.A. moniker and the mohawk so as to keep him from seeming a relic in anachronistic trappings. All in all, the actors are convincing enough in their skins and the friendships between the fictional characters feels more genuine than with most real ones.
To answer the first question last…here are some words you never thought you’d hear in your life, ever: The A-Team movie is good. Really good. Once you ignore the plot holes, some of which are not very glaring, you’ll find an enjoyable, light-hearted movie with creative mayhem and a surprisingly canny direction that’s stylish without being too slick. And it’s freakin’ hilarious. (I actually laughed more at this movie than Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and that was a good movie.) Though the plot is fairly standard, it’s nothing that won’t serve and the team is fighting against a couple of quality bad guys.
The protagonists actually have dynamic arcs to thicken them up a bit as characters:
• Hannibal has unswerving confidence in his schemes because he defines the architecture of the universe by precision. He lives and dies by “the Plan”, in the Platonic sense of its ultimate ideal permeating from the macroscopic to the microscopic. Ontologically, he believes that he couldn’t even form these plots if they wouldn’t work, or at least work out for the best when they fail. In a sense his Panglossian views are dead-on…if you remember that the “gods” of his universe are television writers.
• Face worships his mentor but resents the responsibility that knowing and working for Hannibal implies. He actually doesn’t want to be Hannibal – he prefers to continue indulging his childish fantasies of being a suave super-spy and leave the consequences up to the real adult. But to know Hannibal is to emulate him, and Face feels torn between the image of the man he's destined to be and its terrible inevitability. Also there’s some chick.
• Murdock finds himself in a mental hospital, improperly diagnosed with schizophrenia. The truth is that he has Borderline Personality Disorder, but the label and subsequent confinement gave him leave to drop the few inhibitions left to him by his disease. Now that he again has a job, a role, a newfound chance to regain respect, Murdock finds that he can’t seem to bring those inhibitions back and pass as a human being once more. The “Madman” often seems to enjoy himself but he is deeply self-conscious about the boundaries he can’t help transgressing. As a result, he tries to balance it out by being a people-pleaser.
• From birth, Bosco “B.A.” Baracus always had a defined silhouette to fill – in his neighborhood, in the Army, in prison – as Resident Badass. After being imprisoned a second time, he finds that the mask is not only superficial but no longer serviceable. Being what others thought he ought to be landed him behind bars twice, so B.A. looks inward to inspect the embers of a rage that burned itself out long ago. He finds in the absence of responsibility a peace he hadn’t previously known. A vow of nonviolence – a public abdication of the yoke society placed on him – is met with scorn and derision, though his true friends eventually accept his conversion. Ultimately, Bosco finds his fire rekindled by a mistress more compelling than rage – justice. Then he kicks a lot of ass.
It’s a very deep movie.
Of course The A-Team isn’t going to be the best movie you’ve ever seen. But it’s well into the upper 50th percentile, and definitely not a wasted afternoon. Critics whine about this adaptation so they can impress each other, but I bet they keep their review copies.
To give the final endorsement, I must break the fourth wall. I took my girlfriend to see it. She’s never seen the show, knows nothing about it, and is a girl. She only agreed to go because she was curious “to see how bad it is”. She loved it. And she’s a girl.
The A-Team, starring a whole bunch of people I already named plus some girl who I hear is pretty hot. Showing at Northgate Cinemas, (115, 410, 700, 945); Carmike Majestic, (115, 410, 700, 945); Carmike Wynnsong, (115, 410, 700, 945).