In a garage in Mexico, B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) reunites with his beloved 1983 GMC Vandura Van -- an enduring trademark of the original TV series -- and notes, simply, "It's been too long. Way too long..."
Indeed it has.
"During the original NBC run of The A-Team (1983 - 1987), my father had a word he used to describe the Stephen J. Cannell, Frank Lupo series:
Without putting too fine a point on it, director Joe Carnahan's (Narc ) film is pretty much exactly the same thing as my description of the TV series above, save for a slightly less two-dimensional role for the lead female, here Jessica Biel's Captain Sosa.
Otherwise, you've got the same style of cartoon violence, the same colorful characters, some tremendous stunts, and an overwhelming sense of fun and esprit de corps..
Are the Laws of Physics violated in the much-complained about falling tank sequence?
Yes, abundantly so.
But if you're going to dismiss this particularly movie because of that specific scene, you should be prepared to dismiss as well Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) because of its inflatable raft-as-parachute scene, and Goldeneye (1995) too, for the most Physics-busting shot in James Bond film history: Pierce Brosnan diving after a falling plane in the prologue, catching up to it, climbing in, and flying it out of its death spin.
So yes, there is plenty to nitpick, deride or assail here, particularly if you are seeking a realistic and believable action-thriller.
"The A-Team," declares Sosa "specializes in the ridiculous."
I really can't put it much better than that.
This movie -- like the TV series on which it was based -- specializes in the ridiculous. You either go with the ridiculousness and get a kick out of the intentional over-the-top nature of it, or you won't enjoy the movie a lick.
The original series was always a low-brow, good-humored variation on Bruce Gellar's Mission: Impossible, and the 2010 movie understands that too.
Face (Dirk Benedict) was the charmer of the group; Murdock (Dwight Shultz) the pilot; Hannibal (George Peppard) the irrepressible leader, and B.A. (Mr. T) the mechanic. Together they would combine their skills to save innocent people, all while concocting ridiculous plans like, say, building flame throwers out of hot water heaters and washing machines. The stories were clearly not as tightly plotted or elaborately constructed as those on Mission:Impossible, but this fact gave The A-Team writers room to let the characters banter and do their funny shtick
That shtick is still famous today.
Hannibal crunching a cigar and optimistically -- eternally -- noting that he "loves it when a plan comes together."
Murdock's insane act; a useful insane act which always distracts the enemy at just the right time.
And then there's Face's sense of vanity and his way with all the ladies.
And finally there's Bad Attitude Baracus, who really, really, really hates to fly...and must be tricked, cajoled and sedated to fly Murdock's friendly skies.
The movie revives each and every one of these beloved, extremely silly character gimmicks and touchstones, and in the process, provides audiences the origin story of the A-Team.
The team is framed for a "crime it did not commit," in this case the theft of counterfeit engraver plates in Operation Desert Freedom. The bad guys are Black Forest mercenaries (think Blackwater) who frame the Team and steal the plates for themselves. A CIA guy named Lynch (another name you should recognize from the series...) is another heavy, and Patrick Wilson has a ball with the role.
After breaking out of prison, Hannibal (Liam Neeson) must free his friends and concoct a plan to get the engraver plates back, a plan that will --naturally -- involve lots of violence and death-defying stunts.
And on this last front, the movie A-Team -- with a whopping 100 million dollar budget at its command -- offers the goods in the way that a weekly TV series made in the 1980s simply could not afford.
About mid-way through the film, Carnahan stages a stunning heist sequence at a skyscraper in Frankfurt, with the A Team -- and its opponents too -- plummeting down dozens of stories...all while firing machine guns and launching missiles.
Even truer to the aesthetic of the original series is the film's first major action sequence, which sees the A-Team hijacking a moving convoy in Baghdad to acquire the engraving plates. The plan involves a magnet, a video camera, and several inflatable air bags. It's stereotypically an A-Team, Rube-Goldberg affair, and it's a hoot.
Carnahan edits this scene -- and indeed the finale of the film -- as a delicate dance, a ping-pong back and forth between present and future (or is it past and present?), between intention and action. The gathered team discusses the plan prior to the mission, while we simultaneously cross-cut to the plan in action.
Now, some critics or audiences might complain that this approach is somehow "spoon feeding" the audience information for clarity, but I would differ about that assessment. The cross-cutting is just a dazzling, highly visual way of leading us through a particularly byzantine action scene, without laborious exposition telling why, where, and how things are happening.
In other words, these back-and-forths move at the speed of thought. Hannibal (or Face) proposes, and then we see the proposition happening in real-time, before our eyes.
And for his final trick, Carnahan throws a monkey wrench into the movie's last shell game: a Black Forest mercentary with a rocket launcher.
Listen, I'm not going to argue that The A-Team is a great movie in any sense of that word, though honesty forces me to admit it is much better, more accomplished affair than last summer's other macho action pic, The Expendables. Contrarily, I only argue that The A-Team accomplishes pretty much the same thing that the TV series did on a regular basis.
It diverts. It generates laughs. It thrills.
In other words, this is a faithful and accurate reflection of The A-Team TV series, even if it does not involve helping people in need. No doubt that aspect of the mythos was being saved for the sequel, following this "origin story."
And I do admire the filmmakers for not transforming the A-Team universe into a brutal, sex-obsessed, angsty, brooding Batman-style world, where everything is ultra-realistic, dark-for-the-sake-of-being-dark, and serious to the point of ennui. That would have been the easy route. Instead, this movie -- like the TV series -- is an amusing, blatantly unrealistic lark, fronted by enormously appealing actors playing iconic roles.
More even that even, I admire how Carnahan's movie attempts to find current day alternatives to bloody murder. You'll remember how on the original series, cars would turn over and get destroyed in chases, but the bad guys would always crawl out of the wrecks, shake it off, and get back into the game?
Here, Carnahan pitches the film's fiercest battle between the A-Team in flight (on that notorious falling tank...) and two unmanned Reaper Drones. Hence, the bullets can fly and there's plenty of violence and action. But just like on the TV series, nobody gets hurt in the ensuing explosions. Same idea; but new, clever expression.
Again, I'm not championing this storytelling approach as realistic, scientifically-accurate, believable, or even my preferred approach in filmmaking. Rather I'm championing this storytelling approach as very, very...A-Team like.
If you liked the A-Team TV series and this brand of storytelling, there's no reason in the world you wouldn't enjoy this A-Team movie. It remembers what made us laugh, gasp and smile about the old TV series, and in the process thoroughly...diverts, to use that word again.
In the end, the A-Team movie is not about a rogue but "valuable military asset," or a realistic "clandestine operation," it's about four larger-than-life characters we love who specialize in the ridiculous.
If you can get behind that proposition, then this movie really does come together.