Words On Film: The A-Team

I was a fan of the '80s classic show when I was a boy. Perhaps I was more attached to the theme song than any one plot line. In fact, I can't really remember a specific episode. But it seemed like they always ended with Hannibal and the boys turning a jeep or a fruit truck or an apple cart into a tank of some kind, bursting out of a prison of some kind and then avoiding the bullets of hilariously terrible marksmen bad guys until they saved the girl, or her scientist father, or something. And there were funny costumes. And Mr. T. But, I did find myself "playing" A-Team in the imagination-of-a-young-lad way. Running around my backyard or the playground pretending to be Hannibal or Faceman. So, in that way, The A-Team holds a special place in my heart, even if my nostalgia is based more on the idea of it than the actual product.

So, today, we (the fam for Dad's day) went to the movies, and of all the available options, The A-Team was chosen, and in all honesty I was entirely stoked. It was that little kid inside me, the one that thrives on absurd action plots, elaborate set pieces, and montages of tank assembly, crying out in joy. And to my surprise and jubilation, The A-Team was a thoroughly entertaining piece of guns and mischief daring-do. It's also a movie that thrives on self-congratulations and extensive scene-chewing, both of which have to be expected when going into a movie taking its source material from '80s "action television." I had read a couple of reviews that disparaged the film for not "elevating" the notion of The A-Team, but fuck, seriously? The show was campy and violent and stupid, but fun. And the movie fulfills those roles exceptionally well. Liam Neeson's Hannibal is a sturdy, nearly all-knowing leader, and Neeson attacks the film's few "serious" or "revelatory" plot moments with a knife and fork. And that's to be expected. George Peppard's original Hannibal was a mugging machine, thriving on that straight-into-the-camera wink that shattered the fourth wall, but kept the show cemented in a fun zone. Bradley Cooper takes Faceman's smart-assery and seducer traits to an extreme. That over-the-top writing and performance is only truly bracing when Faceman repeatedly utters the phrase "mother fucker," and spends parts of the film coming of as a slimy frat a-hole. It hinders his likability somewhat, but not enough to ruin anything. Quinton Jackson is a serviceable B.A. Baracas, but there was no way for him to claim or make the role his own. Mr. T is synonymous with B.A. and that's just the end of it. But, the best work comes from Sharlto Copley's "Howling Mad" Murdock. Copley seems most sincere in playing his character, a true and researched homage to Dwight Schultz's original take. Ultimately, these guys just have fun for two hours, which is mostly enjoyable, and occasionally intolerable and grown worthy... just like the source material.

Jessica Biel's in this thing too, but well... The truth is, The A-Team is only bad when the dialogue tries too hard to fill space. Characters here often tell each other things like "That was amazing!" or "I can't believe you did that!" etc. These are the sorts of things that audiences are meant to utter... the excitement and surprise at seeing them succeed in absurd situations, and when the people in the movie are as stoked about their accomplishments as we're supposed to be, that makes it feel forced and empty, like there just wasn't anything for these guys to say. The other issue is that Hannibal, Face, B.A., and Murdock shoot people a lot, using force more than they even seem to think they are. Hannibal even says in the film that they'd be the best team for the job because they'd do it quietly without casualties... and then, they start wasting people. The show was never gun violent, it had absurd chases and vehicles running over things and exploding, but it was rare that anyone actually got shot. Of course, that was the '80s and television just didn't have the kind of violence it does now.

The A-Team boils down to a lot of fun action scenes of shit blowing up, a few genuinely funny lines spoken off-hand, some contrived military plots, and several enjoyable and interesting plans that lovingly come together. It's a goofy, stupid, pointless film that doesn't require a lot of thought to process, and that's not a bad thing. The original show wasn't a thinker's piece either. Enter with the right expectations, and you'll be pleased. And maybe, if you can find them, you can hire... The A-Team.

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