“You’ll believe a tank can fly.” The play on Superman’s tagline aside, this would have been a fitting slogan for a film in which our eponymous heroes’ escape via a parachuting tank has become its most iconic, and ridiculed, moment. As Jessica Biel’s character explains, these guys specialise in the ridiculous, and for anyone who has seen that trailer this is not mere hyperbole. Yet for all its absurdity, by no means is this a bad film. Just as the original series was epitomised by its sheer outrageousness so too should the films’ silliness be considered a strength, not a weakness.
With Joe ‘Smokin’ Aces (2006)’ Carnahan in the director’s chair, it’s safe to say Fox found their ideal man. Well, Michael Bay is always an option, but Carnahan is clearly the superior choice as anyone who has seen the fantastic but barely seen Narc (2002) will tell you. Here he gets to flex his action muscles juggling a variety of set pieces which should more than satisfy the blockbuster crowd. Each sequence is as thrilling as it is daft, striking an almost perfect balance between the intricately staged fights of a Bond film and Die Hard (1988)’s grittier style. An ever present sense of humour makes it easier to swallow, although there is a fine line between incredulity and ludicrousness and it’s a line which is crossed on more than one occasion; a finale in which a spritely B.A. dodges a cascade of unconvincing CG metallic crates requires a suspension of disbelief of childlike proportions. That all being said, it’s actually Carnahan’s insistence as screenwriter which constitutes his biggest downfall. The narrative complexities of his previous efforts are wildly out of place here in a genre which neither feels comfortable with inventive plotting nor particularly needs it. Worse still is the lack of a worthy villain as the real antagonist is revealed far too late to matter and is far too weedy to provide a serious threat. One rather nice touch is the way in which the missions are structured, cross-cutting continually between the obligatory preparation rundown and the action as it unfolds. It’s hardly unique but it certainly adds a bit of stylistic flare to break up the potential monotony.
Still, when all is said and done, A-Team finds itself in the exceptional position of being a summer flick whose main appeal is a reliance not upon violence, but character. Even those who have never watched an episode will likely have more than a passing familiarity with Mr. T and the famous theme tune (criminally underused here) and so like last year’s Star Trek, this is for many a film which lives or dies based on the depiction of these well loved rogues. The result is satisfying, albeit a mixed one. Quinto Sharpley takes Murdock to new heights of insanity, successfully hiding his native South African accent and impersonating many others in the process, while Bradley Cooper’s Face is charming without ever being smug. Less successful is Liam Neeson who certainly convinces as the father figure but less so as an American. Not surprisingly, the real disappointment is B.A. Baracus who, try as he might, simply can’t emulate the frankly batshit behaviour of the original nor his ferocity. Still, the cast’s on-screen chemistry is evident and amidst the often unintelligible dialogue lies some truly funny material.
The modest success at the box office suggests its appeal is limited to fans of the show and certainly doesn’t bode well for a potential sequel, which is a shame given the talent on show. Still, if this is the only cinematic entry in the A-Team canon (at least until the inevitable reboot) at least it was mostly worth the wait. Yes it’s OTT but anyone citing that as a criticism probably shouldn’t have gone in the first place.
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