Directed By: Joe Carnahan
Screenplay By: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods
Based on the television series created by Frank Lupo, Stephen J. Cannell
Produced By: Stephen J. Cannell, Jules Daly, Tony Scott, Spike Seldin, Iain Smith, Alex Young
Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 117 minutes
Release Date: June 11, 2010
Review Date: June 30, 2010
Joe Carnahan, director of The A-Team, apparently has much affection for Michael Bay. He has an affinity for snappy comedic dialogue, hyper-kinetic editing, loose insubstantial plots, and prefers a fiery explosion to a moment of true emotion. The A-Team features all these aforementioned characteristics, but they in no way detract from its appeal. This is a summer blockbuster through and through. Most moviegoers expect visceral action over emotion when it comes to summertime popcorn fare, and this film is no exception.
When a director takes on the commanding role of reinvigorating an old series, he can take the film in many different places. Some directors choose to loosely base the film on the characters and style of the source material, giving it a fresh new spin. Others pay such faithful homage that it becomes nearly indistinguishable from the original (The Brady Bunch). Although I have little experience with the TV show (I have only viewed a few episodes), I feel director Joe Carnahan guided the film through a hybrid of the two. It certainly contains modern and stylistic flourishes that give it a unique and fresh aesthetic, but it still remains faithful enough to the iconic series to keep the fans in check.
Fans of the original series may be surprised to discover that the prologue consists of a “backstory” of sorts, as the team has yet to assemble. Hannibal, a Cohiba-puffing Liam Neeson and Face, a buff and half-naked Bradley Cooper are in the midst of an operation that goes awry in Mexico. In order to escape with their behinds, they must recruit B.A. Baracus as played by UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (paying faithful tribute to Mr. T with tattoos of the words “Pity” and “Fool” on his hands) and the delightfully idiosyncratic Murdock, played by the under-appreciated and tremendously talented Sharlto Copley. The sequence overstays its welcome, consisting of two action scenes (one involving a barrel-rolling helicopter), but nonetheless sets the stage for what is to come. If you don’t like what you see here, leave now.
After the lengthy and visceral prologue, eight years have passed and the men are completing a tour in Iraq. Jessica Biel plays a commander of sorts (as well as an old fling to Face) and recruits the team to undertake a mission so convoluted and unbelievable, I will spare you the time and ink. It nevertheless sets the stage for fabulous albeit incomprehensible action set pieces intercut with comedic vignettes, some of which elicited genuine belly laughs. One set piece that stands out in particular is the “Flying Tank” sequence that was plastered over the trailer. While physically perplexing and preposterous in execution, its tongue-in-cheek approach alleviated any qualms I had about its believability. It’s exactly what you expect it to be: explosive, over-the-top, and most importantly, a lot of fun.
The acting in the film is hit-or-miss. Sharlto Copley steals the show as Murdock, one-upping himself every chance he gets. His execution of the dialogue makes up for the script’s shortcomings. The always reliable and newly badass Liam Neeson is intimidating in not only brawn, but in brain as well. Bradley Cooper goes through the motions well enough, and “Rampage” does his best to Channel Mr. T. I believe him to be the weak link of the four, but you can’t kill him for trying. As for Jessica Biel, it’s painfully obvious that Carnahan cast her for her looks and not her acting ability.
Overall, The A-Team succeeds because it accomplished what it set out to do. Sure, the editing is a little too choppy, the camerawork a hack vérité style that may be too intense for some, and the third act does seem to suffer from that Lord of the Rings when-will-it-end-syndrome. Some may say the film is too much. To them I say, so what? I say go home and watch True Blood, because in the end, Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team is a film that came together. If you don’t believe me, check your pulse as you leave the theater.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.