The A-Team

The A-Team

The film opens Somewhere In Mexico, with gangsters interrogating Hannibal (Liam Neeson in a bewildering rubber nose). Somewhere Else In Mexico, Bosco Albert Baracus (or B.A., a perfectly cast Quentin “Rampage” Jackson) races cops in a Lamborghini. The context of either episode is left to our imagination, as B.A. retrieves his “girl” (his signature custom GMC van) and continues racing across Mexico — toward what, we do not know.

But we know that the Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) is being tortured by a Mexican Army officer for having sex with his beautiful wife. Or, at least, they are trying to torture him, but he just finds the whole thing so darn funny that we don’t feel anything is likely to happen to him. And everybody in the movie seems to laugh in the face of danger. Puns, plays on words, and one-liners abound. The story is light, and the humor lighter, but the action is non-stop and reasonably effective.

Meanwhile, back in the van, B.A. intercepts Hannibal at high speed on a Mexican highway (a dirt road seemingly to and from nowhere), and this is where we realize that this is The Origin Story. Because B.A. and Hannibal do not recognize each other, and it does not seem to be an amnesia plot point. After shooting him in his bicep (don’t ask), Hannibal realizes he’s face to face with a man who has the same tattoo as him. And that tattoo is an Army Ranger tattoo. And that changes everything.

B.A. and Hannibal organize a van-assisted rescue of Face. Well, “organize” is the wrong word, but it’s action-comedy, and now they’re a trio. And they have to get out of Mexico. But who of us hasn’t been there before? I mean, am I right, or am I right? And what do we need when we have to get out of Mexico in a hurry? A pilot! And preferably one who used to be an Army Ranger. Never mind that he was dishonorably discharged from the Rangers, cuz apparently that happens to literally the best of them. The Rangers eat their young. They’re like Democrats in that way.

And so we find Murdock (Sharlto Copley) in a Mexican hospital impersonating a doctor, when he’s actually a psychiatric patient. But he’s a Ranger, and he’s the only pilot Hannibal can find on short notice, so under a hail of gunfire, in a helicopter marked “Ambulancia,” the newly formed, as-yet-unnamed “A-Team” embarks across the Mexican landscape, on the first of many helicopter chases. This traumatic trip is also the origin of B.A.’s fear of flying. He was once a paratrooper with almost 300 jumps, but one trip with Murdock was more than that old Ranger could take (like I said before, don’t ask).

8 years and 80 successful missions later, the A-Team is on R&R in the Iraqi desert, enjoying quippy expository exchanges and characterizing themselves — if not furthering their common narrative — when Jessica Biel shows up. Turns out her character has a name. It’s Charisa Sosa, not that this matters. And she works for the D.O.D., but that doesn’t seem to matter either. What matters is that she’s hot. And female. And she has a history with The Faceman that he thinks reflects greatly on him but that she doesn’t even really acknowledge.

So she kinda comes and goes without much consequence. But man, she is HOT! Some might even say “HAWT”, or “HOTT”, with a double “T”, for added emphasis. But make no mistake about it. And then forget about it. Because she adds little to the story.

Because the CIA is about to ask Hannibal to help recover a billion dollars in counterfeit US currency, and the stolen $100 treasury plates that they are struck from. The bald guy from “Simon and Simon” (Gerald McRaney, as General Morrison) assists The Agency in getting Hannibal into central Baghdad, where the US Army is now forbidden. A montage occurs. The stolen treasury plates and the counterfeit billion is recovered with relative ease, and the A-Team has seemingly earned some more R&R, when the bald guy from “Simon and Simon” explodes, the $100,000,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency explodes, and a black-ops team (darn those black-ops teams) steals the stolen plates. Hannibal’s “Alpha Unit” is framed for the whole thing. Dishonorably discharged. Stripped of rank. Thrown into army prisons. Separated.

But have no fear, because literally without missing a beat, Hannibal gets visited in prison by “Lynch,” a CIA operative who tells him/us that “Pike,” the leader of the aforementioned black-ops team, has been photographed in Germany “with an Arab.” So clearly this changes everything. And only Hannibal and his team can solve this problem. Hannibal wants their names cleared. He wants them reinstated. Clean records. But the CIA cannot do this legally. Instead, a trick cigar is provided, which stops his heart long enough for him to break out of prison the old-fashioned way. As a dead guy.

Hannibal promptly and easily breaks the team out of prison and steals a C-130 cargo plane. When that is shot down, the A-Team escapes in mid-air in a Buford Tank. Naturally. On a parachute. Of course. In the no-kill spirit of the original TV series, Murdock engages an onslaught of pilot-less drones with the tank’s .50 caliber machine guns. And in the spirit of the late-period Roger Moore James Bond films, the tank lands in a lake next to a fisherman who has been fishing with dynamite. High comedy.

The A-Team soon arrives in Frankfurt to re-retrieve the stolen plates. Here, in the rich immediacy of the city streets, director Joe Carnahan misses a chance to match the artful urban action sequences of Heat, or The Bourne Trilogy. The scene is set for such a sequence. The Pentagon, the CIA, two warring factions of the U.S. Army, and Pike’s black-ops commandos are all in the same place. One even wonders if such sequences were cut from the film. At 117 minutes, it’s hard to believe they cut out very much.

But perhaps such a sequence would have been too heavy for the film’s light nature. Curse words are spared. Sex is implied. Blood is even implied, for the most part. As I said before, when Murdock shoots down the U.S. war planes that are attacking them, the director goes out of his way to clumsily explain to us that these are unpiloted drones. Dead people disappear instantly. The wounded do not linger, nor do they suffer. More often than not, injuries are played for comedy, the same as the action.

They’ve got a chance to make that right in a confusing, but less than interesting 6-way double-cross at the Port of Los Angeles, but instead Faceman uses a combination of Chinese fireworks, radio-controlled Mercedes SUVs, and a high-stakes game of three-card monte with giant oceangoing shipping containers standing in for the playing cards, all to draw Pike out into the open. When Pike emerges with a semi-automatic bazooka (of course there’s a bazooka involved), CGI ensues. Eventually, the fighting comes to close-quarters. Faceman runs out of bullets, and B.A. emerges to perform a coup-de-grace using the signature body slam of Quentin “Rampage” Jackson.

In the aftermath, non-sequitur rules. Don Draper, of Mad Men fame (okay, his name’s actually Jon Hamm in real life) shows up. He’s not only handsome, he’s a white-hat good guy CIA operative named Lynch. In a more interesting movie, with a more certain future, this would foreshadow something compelling.

But for all of the credibility Liam Neeson lends to the cast, he never finds the space to lift it up above the source material. The film is too violent for most younger children and too soulless for anyone old enough to be nostalgic for the 1980s action-comedy TV genre. Biel seems to exist in a green-screened second unit universe apart from the rest of the cast. Bradley Cooper never lives up to his promise from previous outings and for all his intended charm, he has very little to work with here.

Still, in comparison, the film improves on the NBC series by a long shot. Carnahan’s earnest action sequences are pleasing to the eye. A lesser director with an equal budget could have turned in action sequences shot in such tight close-ups that you’d be disoriented throughout. I never felt that during The A-Team.

In the end, CIA Director McCready shows up to order the arrest of the A-Team. But in a quick black & white slide-show, we’re assured that they escape into “the L.A. underground” (like Suge Knight?) to live to fight another day, one hopes in The A-Team 2: Electric something-something. And, with any luck, they’ll return every-other summer to right wrongs, dodge bombs, and return priceless things to their rightful owners.

(Dune Entertainment -- http://www.dune-entertainment.com/; Scott Free Films; 20th Century Fox -- http://www.foxmovies.com/; The A-Team -- http://www.ateam-movie.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Saturday, June 12th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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