'The A-Team' Movie Review

Independent Media
Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Liam Neeson photo The A-TeamThe plan could have gone horribly wrong. The elements were all there for a messy, inferior, explosive mess that would sully the memory of the '80s TV series that inspired the A-Team feature film. But writer/director Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces), though not a big fan of the TV show, did the series and its fans proud. The A-Team film captures the spirit, the tone, and even the chemistry shared by the four leads of the series, and then amps everything from the source material up to a level the TV show never achieved or even attempted. And it does all this without losing anything we fondly remember from the show. The catch phrases make the leap intact, and the basic characteristics of each of the four main characters also successfully make the transition to the big screen.
Fans of the series which ran on NBC from 1982-1987 will recognize these characters at once. But what's even more impressive is that if you're not at all familiar with Hannibal, Face, B.A. Baracus, or Howling Mad Murdock before walking into the theater, you won't get lost or feel left out. It's not a 'remake' of the show but rather inspired by the series. The A-Team film stands on its own, and as it stands it's one of the best action films of the year.

Jessica Biel and Bradley Cooper photo from The A-Team
A film a lot of people had dismissed as pure silliness, The A-Team - if given a chance - could be the biggest surprise of the summer. But the problem with The A-Team, something which works against it and may keep viewers from going to check it out, is the film's trailers. In no way do they capture the absolute fun of seeing our heroes try to fly a tank - yes, a tank. It's one of those what the hell moments when you just know, when you're absolutely positive you've been let in on the joke and that everyone involved is having a hell of a good time. If you could reach out and high-five the actors, they'd high-five you back.

The trailers also don't show just how well Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson jell as a team. Completely different in style, somehow the foursome just feels like a real team. You buy them as friends, as soldiers who would be willing to die for each other, and the fact they click is the major reason The A-Team works.
Liam Neeson, Quinton Jackson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley photo from The A-Team

The StoryThe film starts with a little bit of the backstory, set eight years before the real action of The A-Team, that lets us in on how the group formed and just why B.A. Baracus is scared to death of flying. After that, the A-Team - consisting of the man with a plan Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), pretty-boy Lt. Templeton 'Face' Peck (Bradley Cooper), musclebound Sgt. Bosco B.A. Baracus (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) and the lunatic pilot Capt. James 'Howling Mad' Murdock (Sharlto Copley) - get to work on a secret mission to retrieve engraving plates and billions in counterfeit U.S. dollars as the war in Iraq wraps up and troops are pulling out. The team has been recruited for what's basically a suicide mission by sleazy bullet-proof vest-wearing CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson). At the same time Lynch is selling the idea of going after the engraving plates to Hannibal, Face is facing off against his ex-girlfriend, a gorgeous Army officer. Captain Sosa (Jessica Biel) comes to warn Face to not even think about going after the counterfeiters. Of course, the sexual tension's so thick you could cut it with a knife, and of course Face is going to do the opposite of whatever Sosa wants him to do. And thrown into the mix is a shady Blackforest contra
contractor who also has an eye on the engraving plates.

Jessica Biel and Bradley Cooper share a quieter moment in 'The A-Team.'© 20th Century Fox
So the plan, as Hannibal lays it out, is a MacGyver-ish adventure, intricately staged and with each element timed down to the second. After pulling off the mission, the A-Team is framed, accused of going rogue, convicted, and jailed in separate facilities. But as with the original show, not even being incarcerated in heavily guarded penitentiaries is going to keep the team from getting back together to clear their names and take down the real bad guys.

The ActingCarnahan proves to be a genius at casting with his choices for the members of the tight-knit squad. Cooper, Neeson, Copley, and Jackson are pitch-perfect. There's not a bad move made, not a bit of dialogue that doesn't work, and not a single action scene they don't sell. Plus, the onscreen camaraderie feels genuine. Taken individually, each member of The A-Team shines and each lives up to the work done by the original actor who created the characters in the TV series. As a group, all I can say is these are guys I want to see back together again soon.

Cooper's so damn good-looking it's almost criminal (and he's shirtless soon into the film) and he's got that boyish charm working double time for him as Face. Neeson's not known for tackling action films, but his recent starring role in Taken has opened up a new stream of opportunities of which he's taken full advantage. His turn as the cigar-chomping, cool as a cucumber Hannibal marks his 50th performance in a feature film, and it's just as good as his best work in more serious productions. And Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson shows surprising depth and ability taking over the role Mr. T handled in the series. But if one must be singled out, and it's really a shame to do so because they're all on their A games, Sharlto Copley is the one who goes above and beyond as the crazy Murdock. South African Copley is hysterical, going through a range of accents, looney behavior that just had to be improvised, and showing his breakthrough performance in District 9 (which earned him a spot on my Best Actors of 2009 list) wasn't a fluke but just the jumping off point for what's sure to be a fantastic career.

The supporting actors also contribute a lot to The A-Team's success. Patrick Wilson (when is he going to hit big?) is a weird combination of smarmy, annoying and entertaining as the CIA agent working off his own private agenda. And Jessica Biel, the film's sole female presence, is terrific as Face's ex-girlfriend, a hard-nosed, by-the-book Army captain who has no idea who to trust - and who still finds herself attracted to her ex. But then, who could blame her? Did I mention Cooper's shirtless in The A-Team?

Liam Neeson, Quinton Jackson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley in 'The A-Team.'© 20th Century Fox

The Bottom LineThe A-Team takes the action so far over the top even with the help of high-powered binoculars you can't see the ground miles beneath you. Carnahan pulls off camp without making it too, too precious. There are helicopter battles, motorcycle stunts, and explosions galore in this high-powered take-no-prisoners assault on your senses. And even if the story lags at times, the fun is there throughout.

The film brings back the best parts of the '80s series, paying loving tribute to what made that show so special, but then puts its own spin on the action and the characters. And overall it's an extremely satisfying, perfect popcorn film. The plan did in fact come together - this A-Team earns its 'A' rating.


The A-Team was directed by Joe Carnahan and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking.


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