August 17, 2017

The A-Team – Movie Review

Less corn and more class than the original

In the mid 1980’s and for years afterwards in syndication, the A-Team ruled the roost in comedy action/drama as producer Stephen J. Cannell (at the time recently fired from ABC) scored a surprise hit in his first production for NBC.

The formula was simple. Wrongly accused heroes on the run from the authorities earn a living by hiring themselves out to people in need while always managing to stay one step ahead of the authorities. 

Cannell has a reputation for tapping into temporary cultural trends. His involvement with the A-Team movie project as a producer and creative consultant is new territory for him. As the creator of over 40 television series he has always looked for the next trend to tap into. Now he is turning the clock back 23 years and reviving one of his biggest hits for the big screen. 

Recent cinematic history is littered with badly done big screen revivals of old TV series. For some reason we are all supposed to be nostalgically turning our heads to the past and pining for a simpler time before careers, mortgages, and children.

The line-up of producers for the A-Team was curious. A-List heavyweight directors Tony and Ridley Scott, the president of their production company Jules Daly and Stephen J. Cannell. With all that directing talent among the producers they chose to put Indy director Joe Carnahan in the chair. Carnahan doesn’t have much of a Hollywood pedigree and his meagre releases to date have only grossed $70m worldwide.

The cast was predictable with the usual B-Grade action movie formula requirement of an A-List actor (Liam Neeson) and eye candy (Jessica Biel) to hold the show together and give it some credibility. Usually any acting ‘names’ employed are only there to get people in the door and push the box office above the production costs for a tidy profit. An abysmal script would normally hamstring any acting talent by the end of the first scene and leave them looking slightly embarrassed for the rest of the movie as they follow through an incredulous plot line that is only there to link up the handful of set pieces that most of the budget was blown on.  

So from a preview perspective the A-Team had shocker written all over it. The truth however was something different. Don’t get me wrong we still need to check our brains in at the door but this movie is well worth its price of admission. If we think of the A-Team as an unthinking mans Mission Impossible we are close but this has a whole lot more substance and is genuinely funny.

In the original TV series despite the screen being filled up with vast amounts of bullets and other explosive projectiles virtually no one was harmed. This was done to fit that level of violence into a censorship rating time slot for kids. It became a running gag with the writers about how to prevent the bad guys from being harmed. There is still some evidence of this with the movie to the extent that there is no bad language and although people are being killed it is the kind of deaths like the old western movies where one bullet kills someone and there is no blood. In fact despite a high body count we don’t see any blood until the final scenes. Obviously the production team have gone out of their way to ensure a censor rating that enables their younger target audience to have access to the movie and maximise the box office catchment wider than a teen flick. 

The plot holds together well and while updated from Vietnam in the TV series to Iraq for the movie the story stays faithful to the original. Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom and Skip woods have come up with a script that elevates the product from DVD rental fodder to A-Grade status.

The hand held cameras (an indy favourite) give the action a raw realism that puts it in our face while at the same time hiding a multitude of sins and keeping the production costs down.

Liam Neeson is excellent as Hannibal Smith. We could easily have expected a caricature role with a good pay check from him. Instead he makes it his own and takes it to another level.

Jessica Biel shows real screen presence as Capt. Carissa Sosa and her Valentines Day co-star Bradley Cooper as ‘Face’ makes a major contribution to the success of this movie. Sharlto Copley as Murdoch provides most of the laughs. But his Midnight Meat Train co-star Quinton Jackson is the weak link. After a promising start he descends into a bad karaoke take on Mr. T and his lack of acting ability is badly exposed. Thankfully the writers cottoned on to this and he ended up playing very much a peripheral role for most of the movie.    

The physics defying action sequences would keep the Myth Buster boys going for a long time but if we can suspend realism for a couple of hours it is a hell of a ride that doesn’t let up. The Scott brothers have come up with a film that works on every level it has to with its target market and is well set up for sequels without detracting from the storyline of this movie which finishes at the right time. 

The 117 minute run time flies by and nearly everyone behind and in front of the cameras enhances their reputations. This is well worth a look if you are into well constructed action/comedies that have class and wit.

4 Stars out of 5 from me.

Side Facts: 

  • Stephen J. Cannell was involved in creating 21 Jump Street that gave the world Johnny Depp.   
  • Producer Jules Daly began her career on the production team of Little House on the Prairie.