Sure, there are plenty of people who feel a nostalgic affection for the 1983-1987 TV series, but no one actually loved it. Its dependable week-to-week-identical plot formula was an empty vessel for empty entertainment calories—symptomatic of an era when it became acceptable, on both the big and little screen, to seek no more profound truth than what it looks like when stuff blows up real good.
For good and for ill, it’s 1985 all over again in Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team; you will return to an era when simple pleasures were really simple. In an extended prologue, we learn how four Army Rangers—Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) and “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley)—joined together to take down a Mexican crime boss. Eight years later, the foursome is called upon to recover stolen U.S. currency plates in Iraq—except that the mission goes bad, and they all wind up in military prison. Before you can say “I love it when a plan comes together,” they’ll have to break out and recover the plates if they want to clear their names.
The thin premise is little more than a hat-rack on which to hang the re-introduction of the main characters and plenty of opportunities for fancy driving, flying and/or shooting. On the first point, the cast members are perfectly serviceable: Neeson with his no-nonsense squint, Cooper grinning and flashing his impeccable abs, Jackson scowling and sporting Mr. T’s trademark Mohawk, and Copley rattling off crazy non-sequiturs. Little about the original actors or their characterizations was indelible—aside from Mr. T’s pitying of various fools—and it’s fair to say that version 2.0 continues that tradition.
Indeed, the real spark of personality comes from the most improbable of sources: Patrick Wilson. The guy who practically defined “blandly handsome” in Little Children and Watchmen here plays the shadowy CIA operative called Lynch who drags the A-Teamers into their ill-fated Iraq mission, and his cocky delivery energizes the movie’s need for a solid villain. And nothing in the original series was as inventively silly as the scene in which Lynch and a rogue military contractor (Brian Bloom) get into a low-key pissing match over the proper way to transport and intimidate a prisoner.
That’s all we’re really asking for here: inventive silliness. Carnahan delivers it in a variety of set pieces, from the showcased-in-the-trailers freefall of a tank from a military transport plane to the climactic showdown on a cargo ship. We who were there remember the mid-1980s as the era when the gratuitous action-movie explosion came of age, and goofy smiles may be in the offing for anyone who expects little more than blast from the past.
The original A-Team was wise enough, of course, not to get bogged down in romantic sub-plots, while here we’re stuck with Jessica Biel and her perma-pout as Faceman’s Army officer ex-girlfriend who’s tracking the escaped A-Team. It’s all exactly as relevant and emotionally resonant as you might expect, mostly an elaborate set-up for the film’s you’d-better-have-seen-it-coming final gag. Fortunately, it’s also just a tiny part of the frothy story, one that generally feels unpretentious without being lazy.
Will audiences fall any more in love with this incarnation of The A-Team than they did with the original? Probably not. But because it delivers exactly what it promises—no more and no less—a lot of people could fall in like. If the plan was simply to re-capture a 25-year-old vibe of over-the-top action, served with a wink, then it would seem that the plan most decidedly came together.
Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel