Thursday 22 February 2018

Shut up, fool . . . the '80s are back

Not so long ago, the 1980s was a byword for all things culturally reprehensible, but now Hollywood can't get enough of the much-maligned decade.

Already this year we've had high-profile remakes of the likes of Clash of the Titans and Nightmare on Elm Street, and even a comedy called McGruber that was inspired by the ludicrous 1980s TV show MacGyver. But next week, the 1980s remake to top all 1980s remakes will be trundling into town.

For readers of a certain age -- say mid-30s to early 40s -- there's nothing more redolent of the 1980s experience than The A-Team. A cheerfully tacky action adventure series that ran for five seasons from 1983 to 1987, The A-Team was a surprise network hit with both kids (mainly boys) and young adults.

Its backstory of a rogue US Army unit who are on the run for a crime they didn't commit was secondary to the weekly scrapes they encountered with unsavoury criminals and central American dictators, with the A-Team always on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed.

Led by Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith (played by George Peppard, a former A-list movie star who'd fallen on hard times), the team included Lieutenant Templeton 'Faceman' Peck (Dirk Benedict), a dashing conman who procured weapons and transport; Captain HM 'Howling Mad' Murdock (Dwight Schultz), a resourceful lunatic; and Sergeant Albert BA Baracus, a musclebound hardman known to his friends as 'Mr T'.

With simple storylines, frequent explosions punctuated by wisecracks and a number of catchphrases such as "I love it when a plan comes together", The A-Team was hugely popular in the mid-80s, but disappeared forever in December of 1986.

Until now, that is. The show's creator, Stephen J Cannell, has been plotting a movie adaptation since the mid-1990s, and last year his plan finally came together.

Directed by action specialist Joe Carnahan, The A-Team stars Liam Neeson in the Hannibal role (complete with Peppard-like salt and pepper hair), as well as Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Shalto Copley (who so impressed last year in District 9).

It opened last month in the US to mixed reviews, with some applauding its adherance to the trashy and ironic tenets of the original show, while others felt it had aped the TV's dumb tone too well. All the same, it's done quite well at the box office so far, though ironically The A-Team's thunder was stolen on its opening weekend by another 80s remake -- The Karate Kid.

The original Karate Kid was a rather sentimental coming-of-age drama that was a surprise hit in 1984 and went on to spawn three sequels. In it a nerdy kid with family problems who's tired of getting sand kicked in his face is taught the mysteries of martial arts by a kindly passing Japanese master and goes on to kick ass and get the girl.

A pretty simple formula, and one the new Karate Kid has had the excellent good sense not to fool around with too much. Jackie Chan plays the wily master, and Jaden Smith plays the kid in question, no doubt at the insistence of his perents Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, who also produced the film. The film earned an impressive $56m in its opening weekend in the US, and has amassed over $129m at the box office thus far.

All of this means, of course, that more studios will attempt to cash in on the '80s revival, and a good number of projects are already in the works.

Oliver Stone's timely revival of 80s corporate pirate Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps will appear in the autumn, but Stone's film is very much at the erudite end of some pretty trashy 80s remakes.

For instance, John Milius's paranoid 1984 action thriller Red Dawn, in which the US was invaded by bloodthirsty Soviets, is being remade with only minor adjustments to accommodate the new world order (it's the Chinese who invade this time, though why they would knowingly destabilise their most lucrative export market is beyond me).

The 80s teen horror hit Fright Night is also being rehashed, with the backing of Steven Spielberg. Toni Collette and former Dr Who David Tennant are down to star, and the new film will adhere to the original storyline of an over-excitable teenager who can't get anyone to believe that his nextdoor neighbour is a vampire.

Anyone remember Arthur? Dudley Moore starred as the affable but lonely drunken millionaire in the original, and Russell Brand has signed on for a remake that has just begun filming and co-stars Helen Mirren as his female valet, as well as Nick Nolte and Jennifer Garner.

That's not the worst of it: the dreadful Piranha franchise (which actually started in the 70s) will be revived later this year when Piranha 3-D is unleashed on an unsuspecting public just when they thought it was safe to go back in the water. Saturday Night Fever is also to be rehashed, and there are nasty rumours that the likes of Weird Science and even the Tom Cruise classic Top Gun are being seriously considered for repackaging.

So what's going on? Partly, this newfound enthusiasm for the films and TV shows of the 1980s is down to the tastes of the 30 and 40-something writers, directors and producers who are currently holding sway in Hollywood and are turning to the things they grew up with. But the 1980s revival has more to do with modern Hollywood's risk-averse attitude, which has only been exacerbated by these harsh economic times.

The new A-Team film cost $110m to make. With budgets like that, anything the studio can do to lessen the risk involved in making a film will be clung to, and any kind of audience recognition is a Godsend. The producers of The A-Team will have calculated that, however well or badly their film is received by the critics, it will have a guaranteed audience of millions of 30-somethings who won't be able to resist revisiting the show they grew up with.

It's a cunning but depressing strategy, and at this stage it's getting pretty hard to remember the days when Hollywood was famous for innovation rather than imitation. The A-Team opens nationwide on July 28.

Irish Independent

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