Liam Neeson leads an elite commando unit found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit in “The A-Team,” the testosterone-fueled reboot of the 80s television series of the same name.
Writer/director Joe Carnahan wisely avoids a self-serious tone that would have made a movie about four living action figures unintentionally funny and instead fills “The A-Team” with enough self-awareness and confidence for two movies. While “The A-Team” edges dangerously close to smug territory, there’s enough seriousness during the tensely directed action segments to keep the characters and the movie on the right side of the line.
The indestructibility and unflappable confidence of the characters serves as a nod, not just to the original series, but 80s action movies as a whole. No one ever legitimately worried about whether Hanibal and the boys were going to escape whatever life-threatening situation they found themselves in, just like no one ever worried about whether Sylvester Stallone was going to make it out of “Rocky IV” or if Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to survive “The Running Man.”
Instead, the focus is appropriately placed on the team’s ridiculous plans and the surgical execution that goes into seeing them through. It’s unfair (not to mention too easy) to compare “The A-Team” to “The Losers,” but the action, scale, and scope of The A-Team’s exploits stand head and shoulders above anything that happened in that other buddy movie about a bunch of soldiers wrongfully accused.
At its best moments, “The A-Team” looks like a big-budget G.I. Joe playset where anything can happen. Characters defy the laws of physics on a regular basis and the ludicrously impossible become common, accepted, and ultimately, entertaining.
These action scenes work all the better because of the cast, which really couldn’t be more spot-on. Neeson gives Hannibal the appropriate level of mentor/father figure qualities, while maintaining the physical presence necessary to be a believable team leader. Bradley Cooper proves that he should do more action movies. He manages to balance the pretty-boy routine with some more deliberate moments. Sharlto Copley (“District 9″) steals several scenes as Murdock, but manages to avoid chewing too much scenery. Unsurprisingly, the weakest link is the only non-actor, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, who spends the entire movie doing his best Mr. T impression.
Casting a non-actor as B.A. Baracus makes Carnahan’s decision to center much of the subplot on the Mohawk-sporting asskicker all the more puzzling. Yes, the subplot is ancillary to the main story, but Baracus’s struggle with pacifism becomes increasingly laughable as the movie goes on and watching Jackson try to act his way through his character’s internal conflict is even funnier.
Not to be outdone, Cooper gets his own subplot with token lady Jessica Biel, but they’re both better actors and therefore slightly more tolerable. But only slightly. Carnahan’s decision to try and deepen the two most superficial members in the team’s roster is more distraction than anything.
When “The A-Team” sticks to ridiculous action and winking self-assurance, the movie works, but when it begins to add unnecessary plot twists or deepen characters, namely Baracus, the movie starts to lose its grip. There’s a time and a place for characterization –– it’s called winter and drama. Summer action movies, especially ones based on a three-season, family-friendly television show from 27 years ago, can get away with being shallow and direct, as long as they’re exciting.
For the most part, “The A-Team” is exciting. It’s over-the-top, requires zero investment and manages to top itself on a regular basis. And given the lukewarm summer releases so far, that’ll do.