Movies: The A-Team * * *
Everything goes to plan (12A, general release)
I'm sorry but it has to be said: Isn't it great when a plan comes together? Stifle your groans -- The A-Team movie fully deserves the epithet.
Faded matinee idol George Peppard made the catchphrase famous as Col Hannibal Smith in the 1980s knucklehead TV series of the same name. Liam Neeson, stepping in as cigar chainsmoker Smith, isn't afraid to use it. Nor should he be: we might be a good 25 years on from the TV heyday of The A-Team, but this big-screen version invokes the spirit of the Eighties with aplomb. It is loud, it is brash, and it likes blowing up stuff.
The original A-Team was the sum of four parts and director Joe Carnahan is quick to reacquaint us with them. Neeson's Hannibal opens the movie by extracting himself with nerve and wit from a hostage situation "somewhere in Mexico". BA Baracus (Mr T is replaced here by Ultimate Fighting champion Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) is busy bashing some guys' heads together "somewhere else in Mexico". Ladies' man Face (played by The Hangover's Bradley Cooper) is in trouble for sleeping with a gangster's moll and mad-as-a-coot chopper pilot Murdock (Sharlto Copley) is in a psych ward. No change there then.
Through a series of unlikely coincidences and a good deal of gunfire, Carnahan brings these four renegade US Army Rangers together. The action flashes forward to eight years "and 80 successful missions" later. Our wisecracking quartet have become a covert operations team for the US army and are on one last, high-risk manoeuvre in Iraq involving counterfeit bank plates and billions of dollars. This updates the story of the small screen A-Team -- back then they were all Vietnam vets.
Not that it matters. Once the script establishes some loose context for their Army past, it drops the politics at the door. The guys are somehow framed for -- you guessed it -- a crime they didn't commit. They are outlaws again, pursued by a CIA agent (Patrick Wilson) and a lieutenant played by Jessica Biel. Naturally, she's beautiful when she's angry.
To reveal any more of the plot is unnecessary because the plot is beside the point. This is about special effects, the inventive uses of parachutes, stunt aeronautics and explosions. Lots of explosions.
Carnahan was the director who brought us Narc and Smokin' Aces and he knows how to choreograph a high-octane chase scene. He blows a tanker piled with multi-coloured containers sky-high with the abandon of a toddler tossing a bucket of Lego pieces in the air.
That said, it's all made palatable by the healthy dose of humour injected along with the adrenaline. When Murdock ends up 'flying' an armoured tank, the camera closes in briefly on a bumper sticker that asks: "How is my driving?" The craze for 3D everything is lampooned by driving a real truck through the image of a truck on a cinema screen (with the old A-Team theme music faintly playing on the soundtrack of the movie on show at the time).
These little touches mean it isn't entirely necessary to leave your mind at the cinema door, but it is advisable to move it down to first gear. Even so, when the occasional stab to flesh out the motivations of the four lead characters fails, at least it does it with a witty aside. BA temporarily loses the will to kill, but Hannibal tries to talk him back onto the path of violence by quoting Gandhi. There is an ongoing gag about Face's vanity and addiction to a deep Californian-style tan.
There is much to laugh at in The A-Team: the ludicrous plot, the fact that the four lead actors seem to be perpetually on the verge of bursting into giggles. The good news is that movie is in on the joke and it's all just a big bit of silly fun.