Directed by: Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Patrick Wilson
The last time the TV series The A-Team aired was nearly 25 years ago. It only lasted for five seasons and its biggest star was Mr. T. The question then arises, who, exactly, was screaming for an A-Team movie? Well, judging from the weekend box-office figures, not as many people as the studio likely hoped.
Besides losing the battle of ‘80s nostalgia this week—the film grossed about half of what The Karate Kid took in—the mere creation of an A-Team movie is a bit strange. The original show was pure cheese and a celebration of the kind of ‘80s action excess that normally amounted to “stuff blowing up real good.” The film The A-Team is a prime example of how a good bit of shine, a large amount of cash and some name actors can help make a shoddy TV product into something somehow respectable.
The plot is nothing special. A collection of action-movie standards serves as a framework for what amounts to an origin story of the A-Team. Like the TV series, the movie follows four soldiers who are part of a military squad specializing in outlandish, over-the-top missions. This leads to a bevy of absurd action set pieces that work simply because director Joe Carnahan understands the inherent goofiness of the popcorn movie. Carnahan—after a brief bout of respectability with Narc (2002)—appears hell-bent on making disposable entertainment. After the misfire that was Smokin’ Aces (2007), it looks like he’s catching on, at least a bit (or at least he’s getting good at ripping off Guy Ritchie).
The A-Team starts off quickly and is coated in style. This is helped by a more-than-solid cast. Liam Neeson as Hannibal, the leader of the A-Team, has the right kind of phony gravitas that suits his role—and the movie—perfectly, lending a certain amount of respectability to the proceedings, while still being agreeably hokey. Bradley Cooper as Face is at his best since Midnight Meat Train (2008). Sharlto Copley (District 9) as Murdock gets one of those roles where he’s basically allowed to do as he pleases for the duration. The best I can say, however, about former UFC fighter turned actor Quentin “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus is that at least he’s a better actor than Mr. T. Even the occasional cornball reference to the original TV series doesn’t harm the film too much, since the movie retains its own playful attitude throughout.
The problem is that the movie, well, keeps going. The film gradually, slowly exhausts itself after showing so much promise early on. No one is able to keep the action up. You can almost feel as The A-Team slowly loses momentum, until the entire movie climaxes into a convoluted font of noisiness. It works as your basic popcorn flick, but there’s a sense that it could’ve been something just a little bit more. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking.