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Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

The A-Team / *** (PG-13)

Posted Friday, June 18, 2010, at 9:59 PM

(Photo)
Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson lead "The A-Team" in the feature film reboot of the popular 80s TV show.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Joe Carnahan. Written by Carnahan & Brian Bloom and Skip Woods. Based on the television series created by Frank Lupo & Stephen J. Cannell. Running time: 118 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking).

"Overblown is underrated."

--Hannibal, "The A-Team" (2010)

I have to say, as a film critic in an age when we go to the cinema to witness alien robot races battling over the planet for who knows what purpose or cursed, motorcycle-riding superheroes with flaming skull heads, I don't generally agree with Hannibal's sentiment. The film version of the 80's television show "The A-Team" certainly adheres to its own statement by being a balls out, overblown, ridiculous, absurd, explosion-filled, wacky action comedy that barely stops for a breath of air between its bloody hand-to-hand combat, highflying air scuttles, grave threats and snappy witticisms. And I'm almost ashamed to admit, I loved every minute of it.

I don't think I would truly qualify as a "fan" of the television series, although I did watch it in my youth. I' am sure that were I to pull up some episodes on You Tube today, I'd be greatly disappointed. I wouldn't have been surprised had that been my reaction to the feature-length motion picture reboot. The movie is something wittier than the television show and something pumped up on action film steroids above what the TV show was. But, it captures the core characters of the show, possibly even better than the show itself did.

The A-Team is made up of four former Airborne Rangers. Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith is the leader, the man who always has a plan, a plan that is always unusual in its unique complexity and execution. Lieutenant Templeton "Faceman" Peck is the good-looking second, the gigolo who always ends up with the girl and often finds himself in the most awkward situations. Bosco B.A. Baracus is the muscle with oddly innocent weaknesses; in this particular case he's an Airborne Ranger with a fear of flying. H. M. "Howling Mad" Murdock is the team's pilot, who seems to be a few sockets short of a complete ratchet set and, as explained in the film's opening action sequence, is directly responsible for Bosco's aerophobia. There are other characters in this movie, but it's obvious that director Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces") and his co-screenwriters Brian Bloom and Skip Woods don't care about anybody else in this movie but The A-Team. This is particularly distressing in Bloom's case since he actually plays one of the film's underdeveloped villains.

Liam Neeson ("Taken") takes the reins as the team's leader, Hannibal, and brings his usual sturdy guidance to the role. He gives weight to Hannibal's signature line, "I love it when a plan comes together." Bradley Cooper proves what every fan of "Alias" already knew and all the fans of "The Hangover" are now realizing, that he can pull off an engaging action role with a comic edge about his dashing good looks. Mixed martial artist Quinton Jackson ("The Midnight Meat Train") is the rare athlete that actually appears comfortable taking on a major role as the iconic B.A. Baracus, first popularized in the TV show by Mr. T. But it is South African actor Sharlto Copley who steals the show as the oddball Murdock. While Copley's leading turn in last year's sleeper hit "District 9" indicated a strong screen presence, there was no hint there of just how funny he could be in a big budget feature.

The action is often a little too over the top. The opening sequence features a helicopter chase with our heroes performing feats in a helicopter that couldn't be accomplished by a yo-yo in a preeminent yo-yo master's hands. And the finale really stretches the bounds of the notion that all these dominoes falling into place are actually part of the plan. The action editing also suffers greatly from the ubiquitous action ailment of quick cut editing. The editing is so fast and furious it's impossible to tell just what is going on in most of the film's fight sequences. It goes something like this: Oh, they're fighting now. Now they're done. Oh, big explosion!

However, the comedy somehow holds the whole thing together. Murdock and Baracus have a wonderful love/hate relationship. All four characters really play off each other like some sort of very strange, testosterone driven brotherhood. It's a shame about the other characters. Jessica Biel ("Valentine's Day") is in it but she's wearing so many clothes. I know that's a terribly sexist point of view, but had the filmmakers actually given her something to do beyond being a mere plot device in one of the team's plans, there might be more to say about her presence. Cooper is shirtless in many scenes and still contributes to the film's success.

So "The A-Team" is certainly not going to mark a sea-change shift in the way we look at movies, most certainly not in the way we look at attractive female co-stars, but it does make for some good summer fun. I know I shouldn't like this movie, but I had far too much fun watching it to say I can't recommend it. A friend of mine who disagrees about "The A-Team" being worth the price of admission did have to agree with one thing I had to say about it, it is infinitely more entertaining than "Transformers".

"The A-Team" is currently playing at Marshall Cinema and Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.

VisitA Penny in the Well for film clips, DVDs, star rating scale, and my latest Penny Thoughts.



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ANDREW D. WELLS
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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