With childhood nostalgia anchored firmly in the 80s, I’m a prime target for Hollywood’s recent nostalgia sweep. Thanks to a raging ego, contrarianism and a cold black heart however, I’m a hard sell– or like to think I am. I tend to like 80s nostalgia planted firmly in the 80s- big hair, fluffy innocence, original charm and all. And while we here at AATM are never against a remake/reboot, oftentimes they’re thin rehashes that rely on name brand only and eschew what worked for material that’s simply meaner, uglier, sloppier and strainingly unhip in attempts to be hip.
Still, we’ve got two iconic 80’s pop culture survivors making a play for buckets of summertime dollars– between Karate Kid and The A-Team, welcome to 80’s flashback weekend, 2010. Happily, thanks to some bouncy dialogue, use of its TV predecessors elaborate ruses (peppered with Carnahan’s trademark planning cut to action and back again), cheerful doses of action-heavy camaraderie and enough balance between old and new, The A-Team arrives (10 years and close to 20 writers later) with a giddy dose of shenanigans that equal a testosterone soaked onslaught of both gregariousness and fun.
Directed by Narc and Smokin’ Aces kinetic and personable Joe Carnahan, The A-Team arrives with most of its 80’s roots intact– chockablock with back-slapping, old time buddy banter and the eccentrically likable characters of master-mind Hannibal (Liam Neeson), lady-slayer Face (Bradley Cooper), bats**t crazy Murdock (District 9‘s Sharlto Copely) and sensitive tough guy B.A (Bad Attitude) Barracus (WWE tough guy Quinton Jackson). Set up as a prequel that tells the story of what the TV series opening lines only alluded to, we meet the A-Team before they’ve gelled into The A-Team– a group of Rangers who, by chance, all cross paths in Mexico before bonding and working in Iraq in the final days of the pullout. Interestingly, that places The A-Team somewhere in the distant future.
Still, the hammer of conflict has to fall and soon the boys are framed for a crime they didn’t commit, creatively bust their way out of respective high security military prisons and come together to both clear their names and ladle up a satisfying platter full of winking, smile-cementing fun that’s as rapid-fire as they come. Inducing “permasmile” can be tough, but with trucks/people/airplanes flipping, characters who look like they’re having fun and bullets and witty zingers zipped by on screen, my first grin came on about two minutes into the film and remained, non-stop, until the 90-minute mark. Disappointingly, it’s there The A-Team loses some of its charming steam as Carnahan lets lose in a third act that buries the audience in a routine, mind-crushing and action dense kitchen sink filled with sensory Red Bull and cocaine overkill of way too much, way too loud.
Still, the action is creative and the first two acts feel so light and pitch-perfect, it supports the leaden weight that almost– almost– collapses on itself. Supporting performances are meaty enough, with a slick performances by Patrick Wilson as a cock-sure CIA handler and video game voice staple Brian Bloom oozing sinister douchebaggery as the A-Team’s polar foil and military contractor, Pike. Oh, and Jessica Biel’s cheekbones and teeth are somewhere in here too, as a Face’s ex and Department of Defense agent tasked with tracking down the A-Team, conflict of interests be damned.
And while Carnahan and his production crew chose an almost dizzying array of quick cuts, stylistic flourishes and rapid-fire camera roller coaster riding for most of the movie (it’s co-produced under Tony/Ridley Scott’s Scott-Free production house, after all), the action remains surprisingly cohesive, building rapid-fire images that cascade into a brain-digested, comprehensive picture.
For a movie that’s based on an ofttimes goofy, death-free 80’s television series about a group of four ex-Green Beret misfits concocting plans that always come together, The A-Team unapologetically entertains and satisfyingly introduces the second movie of the summer (behind Iron Man 2) that actually feels like it belongs.