Devin Faraci: I grew up with The A-Team, although I never particularly liked it. The
younger readers won’t quite understand this, but when I was a boy it was
a time of three to five channels on TV, VHS tapes priced to rent and
not to own, and video games that, while fun, didn’t soak up 60 hours of
your life. When I was a kid you pretty much watched whatever was on TV
every night of the week, whether you were in to it or not.
The A-Team was the kind of repetitive show that was tough for me to
enjoy. Like The Incredible Hulk it was a wash/rinse/repeat show – every
beat was obvious and the same from episode to episode. Even the vaguely
NorCal locations were interchangeable from week to week. Every episode
the A-Team would blow into town, meet some good people (usually one of
whom was a scrappy, pretty girl) who were having trouble – usually with a
local developer or criminal type – futz around for 40 minutes then get
locked in a barn where they would montage themselves up a homemade
supervehicle of some type, setting off explosions that sent guys flying
but never killed them.
But there was always this interesting backstory to the A-Team that
rarely got explored (every fourth or fifth episode Military Police would
get caught up in the generic plot, but that never really went
anywhere), a backstory that felt like the real story. And that’s what
the movie version of The A-Team is all about.
Nobody is more surprised than I am that I really liked this movie. It’s
fast, it’s funny, it’s silly in the right measure and it understands the
need to stay buoyant at all times. There are broadly sketched but
endearing characters played by actors (some with more facility than
others) who are obviously having a fine old time. And until it gets
stuck in a bunch of CGI stuntmen and meaningless explosions right at the
end it’s a semi-perfect summer movie. I’ve seen The A-Team called this
year’s Star Trek and I’d definitely agree with that.
Nick Nunziata: I don’t really get the Star Trek comparison that much, though I agree
that aside from the overblown Los Angeles dock sequence it’s a frantic
bit of excellent summer entertainment. The A-Team is a big brand but no
more sacred than any of the other 70’s and 80’s action shows we’ve seen
adapted and as a very casual watcher of the original I was happy to see
this use the expected gimmicks of the show but boldly carve its own path
with a delightfully ludicrous bit of legitimate tomfoolery. This movie
is manic and confident and the most rewarding summer movie thus far. All
four of the leads are terrific in their own ways and though Patrick
Wilson is always good, Brian Bloom as the Blackwater-esque baddie Pike
really comes alive in the climactic moments. Especially a scene in the
back seat of a car, one of the movie’s many little moments that
highlight the strengths of Smokin’ Joe Carnahan and Skip Woods.
For every kind of moment that could easily derail the movie with its mind-numbing fast action there’s a little moment that makes it all worthwhile, like the back seat scene. Or one of the lovely moments that showcase how batshit Sharlto’s Murdock is. Or when Neeson and Cooper get to exploit their surprising chemistry.
Neeson is a guy who has quietly become one of our truly special talents, able to do pretty much anything and pull it off. This is in many ways a coming out party of the guy in a straightforward and gleefully peppy summer action flick. He wears it well.
Devin Faraci: I think the Star Trek comparison comes from the fact that this movie has
no right being this much fun and this watchable. I’m sure that if you
sat down and really thought through any of Hannibal Smith’s plans they’d
be unworkable on their face, but in the moment, with the charisma of
the actors and the playfulness of the script, it simply works. It
transports you without ever making you feel like it’s disrespecting you,
which I think too many action films do – they assume you’re stupid and
won’t care. Carnahan and friends know that you’re not stupid and so they
attempt to engage you and misdirect you instead of pretending you’re
too dumb to notice the holes and impossibilities. Thats’ exactly what JJ
Abrams and the cast of Star Trek did last summer.
That doesn’t work unless you have a cast that comes together really
well. I agree with you that Brian Bloom’s Pike is a real treat as a
villain, but I do love Patrick Wilson. His CIA agent Lynch slowly
becomes goofier and more childish as the movie goes along, and I loved
that, especially because he contrasted with the movie, which seemed to
get more serious and cookie cutter in the third act.
The rest of the cast is great as well. As the movie was shooting I got
alarmed reports from the set that Sharlto Copley just wasn’t an actor
(duh!) but it seems that Joe Carnahan figured out how to work with the
South African. His Howling Mad Murdock cleverly slips in and out of many
accents, so that his inability to quite nail an American one doesn’t
feel so offbase. And except for a couple of quick scenes at the end,
he’s never called upon to do any real acting – he’s mostly just hanging
about goofing off and being weird. Rampage Jackson, a UFC fighter, is
very serviceable as BA Baracus, a character who was originated by a man
who couldn’t act anyway. If BA suddenly had a three dimensional
performance behind him it might seem weird. Jackson’s actually a lot
more fun than I would expect (especially from a guy who said in an
interview that acting is ‘gay’), and he finds the heart of BA.
The movie is really about Faceman and Hannibal, though. Bradley Cooper
has an excellent smarm level going on Faceman, while Liam Neeson anchors
it all as the Good Father in Hannibal. I like the structure of the film
– the opening is the origin of how the A-Team formed, with Faceman and
Hannibal already working together and accruing BA and Murdock. The film
then flashes forward seven years to show the boys getting framed for a
crime they didn’t commit; the fact that these two were fast friends at
the start makes the focus on them feel natural.
The other unspoken star is Carnahan himself. He structures the movie in
such a way that there’s little fat. While I think that his action scenes
are too shaky – big, crazy action deserves to be shot, not implied – I
love the way he crosscuts in time between Hannibal explaining a plan and
the execution of it. It helps make the action coherent and keeps us
always moving forward to another big, fun set piece. He’s got a truly
classic heist movie in his veins, and I hope he gets to make it some
Nick Nunziata: Carnahan rocks it here, having exorcised some demons in Smokin’ Aces and
able to let his considerable chops run wild. Nothing is too over the
top and the approach to have Liam and his boys have their insane plan
and be utterly sold on it without bringing too much attention to how
crazy it all is makes the outlandish stuff feel like an organic part of
the movie without it being too superhuman. The editing is fantastic,
whether showcasing “how a plan comes together” or balancing the fast cut
action with actual character beats. Carnahan elevates the material, no
doubt. That said, the opening scene and its use of onscreen text [firing
pin] would have been nice to see surface later in the film.
Another nice aspect to the film is Bradley Cooper’s chest. It should
have its name above the title.
As good as Wilson and Cooper and Jackson (whose neurosis is a nice
counter to Mr. T’s Tough guy act) are, Jessica Biel and the typically
formidable Gerald McRaney don’t do much to add to the total package.
Devin Faraci: But the good news is that Biel doesn’t really hurt the movie either.
It’s too bad that our standards are low, but it’s the truth – she’s not
special but she’s not particularly terrible either.
It’s great to be surprised by a movie like this. There’s a crazy feeling
out there that I don’t dig summer action fare, but I’m all about it
when it’s done well, and THE A-TEAM is a big, silly, fun, crowd-pleasing
blast. You know a movie works like gangbusters when the scene that was
worst in the trailer – the parachuting tank – ends up being one of the
best in the movie, and that perfectly captures what works in the film.
I’m ready for another one, if they keep the bouncy, fun tone. And if the
cameo actor at the end shows up as the baddie.
Nick Nunziata: Agreed on the cameo. Agreed on most everything. This is a fun movie and
in a jacked year like this one it was nice to just have fun in a movie
theater again without concessions (figurative not literal, I ate the
piss out of some Nerds). If more hypermainstream properties were
executed this well it’d be a little harder to to the ‘all remakes and
adaptations are the Devil’ line.
It’s not perfect but it certainly hit the spot.