Sunday, June 20, 2010

The A-Team: Overkill is Underrated

The A-Team is part of my childhood - I remember playing the A-Team when I was a kid in the schoolyard. All my friends argued about who got to be B.A. - I was always Hannibal.

Recently, I got back into watching the original show on Hulu and was astonished at what an entertaining romp it was. Sure, the show was driven by formula and the comic-book violence was open to criticism - but the plots made sense, the cast was charismatic and the scripting was seriously witty.

Thus, when the new big-screen version of The A-Team was heralded, I was understandably nervous. So many aspects of the show seemed sacrosanct and I dreaded what sort of Hollywood hybrid it would turn out to be if they messed with any of them.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried.

The A-Team was nothing short of a 21st century triumph - staying astonishingly loyal to the tone and plot of the original 80s TV show, but updating it and adding a bit of stylish cinematic flair during the process.

The core components of the show remain the same - four US Army Rangers gang together to create the elite Alpha Team (the titular A-Team.) There's the brains of the operation, master strategist John 'Hannibal' Smith. He's played in the movie by Liam Neeson, who does a neat job channeling George Peppard and captures his wry charisma and effortless confidence.

Next there's Templeton 'Faceman' Peck - the sly, charming womanizer who can cheat, con or sweet talk his way into requisitioning just about anything. In the original TV show he was played beautifully by Dirk Benedict - in the movie Bradley Cooper takes a different tack. Face is still a charming smooth-talker, but he's definitely a bit more of a rough diamond. I definitely miss Benedict's slick with, but Cooper is at least considerably more convincing as an army ranger.

The muscle of the A-Team is provided by Bosco 'B.A.' Baracus - played in the TV show by Mr. T. His sneakers were filled by UFC champion 'Rampage' Jackson, who pulls off Mr. T's signature look and casts around his catchphrases with fluency. It's pretty much a pitch-perfect substitution and Jackson does a grand job.

Finally, there's the character that made the A-Team - H.M. 'Howling Mad' Murdock. Originally created for a single episode of the TV show, actor Dwight Schultz was such a hit with the audience that the lunatic pilot entered the cast full time - and is widely remembered as being the best actor in the whole show. In the movie, his role is filled by South African actor Sharlto Copely who does a simply astounding job - taking a slightly different direction in his portrayal of the crazy airman, but easily stealing every scene he's in.

The plot is loosely based on the original concept of the TV series. General Morrison is the A-Team's commanding officer, and assigns them the task of 'liberating' some US mint plates from Iraqi insurgents. After successfully stealing them, however, the A-Team are ambushed and the plates stolen, with the A-Team framed and left held responsible. Court-martialed and imprisoned, the fabulous four bust out of maximum security and head off on a hell-for-leather scramble to reclaim the plates and clear their names.

The movie itself is high octane throughout - with the A-Team crashing through walls, surviving exploding planes, engineering elaborate heists and finally having a showdown with the bad guys in the Los Angeles dockyards that involves such mayhem and carnage that every single action film that came before it pales in comparison.

The only thing that holds this rampage of riotous action together is the chemistry of the four stars - they actually come across as liking each other a lot more than the TV cast - and the sizzling script. The A-Team is written beautifully and I spent much of the first half of the movie howling with laughter at the lines.

Things get a little less taut towards the end - but ultimately the movie delivers a much more satisfactory cinematic experience than most big-budget blockbusters and in the areas that are most important, remained remarkably loyal to the show that inspired it.

There are even things that set the A-Team aside - like the bad guys working for US contractor 'Black Forest' which is obviously modeled on the controversial 'Black Water' currently up to no good in Iraq. The bad guy was a CIA agent played with menacing arrogance by Patrick Wilson, who neatly visualized many people's concerns about the blithe application of military action abroad when he ordered a missile strike on the A-Team and followed it up by saying: "Wow, that looked just like Call of Duty" (a famous video game.)

But morality lessons are not what the A-Team is all about. Ultimately, it's just a full-fledged action movie that stays smart and witty while delivering what fans of the original TV show (like myself) crave. In that respect, it was an enormous success. Don't miss it.

1 comment:

Haunted Jo said...

OK, sold. Sounds like it's everything it should be. Can't wait for it to turn up in the UK!