There has been a distinct 80s flavour to this summer’s offerings. It began in April with Hot Tub Time Machine, a flashback to the 80s that borrowed heavily from the films of the time — not the least of which being Back to the Future. It carried over into MacGruber, a satire of all things 80s action.
While these films reference/were inspired by 80s properties, a number of the summer blockbusters this year are either remakes or “sequels” to 80s films, or adaptations of 80s TV shows. The Karate Kid, Predators, Red Dawn… Later this year sees sequels to both Wall Street and TRON. Now this isn’t necessarily new. This decade has been littered with 80s nostalgia, from Transformers and G.I. Joe, to Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It just seems more apparent this year, as it’s somewhat unavoidable. (This isn’t entirely a bad thing, mind you — I am incredibly stoked for that TRON sequel.)
And of course, there’s The A-Team. Along with MacGyver and Knight Rider, it is one of the landmarks of 80s television — at least as far as action TV goes. I should admit, I’ve never really been one for this series. It is before my time of course, but when I occasionally catch it on retro channels, my enjoyment stems more from its unbridled ridiculousness than any actual mark of quality.
The movie is largely the same. This is by no means a good movie, but it is a very entertaining one. It knows exactly what it is, and very rarely takes itself seriously. Despite the absurd nature of the plot, the movie is carried on the back of its overwhelmingly likable cast.
Liam Neeson leads up the team as Col. “Hannibal” Smith, and he’s flanked by the stars of last summer’s biggest flicks: The Hangover‘s Bradley Cooper as “Face” Peck, and District 9‘s Sharlto Copley as Murdock. UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson rounds out the group in the Mr. T role as B.A. Baracus. Each of them serve to make the movie more than it is.
I’ve always liked Cooper since I first saw him on Alias years ago, and I’m glad he’s finally achieved movie star status. He’s quite funny here, and very charming, just as he was in The Hangover. And what a treat it is to see Copley get more high profile work. A relative unknown before District 9’s runaway success, he was one of last summer’s biggest revelations (as far as movies go, anyway). Given the kind of film District 9 is, I had to wonder whether he could parlay that success into a legitimate career. While it’s still early, it looks like he’s done just that. He’s underutilized in the final act, but he provides the movie with its biggest laughs.
More than anyone else in the cast, it’s Jackson who’s walking in the shadow of a giant. Mr. T is an instantly recognizeable “star” whose B.A. is not so different from his public persona. Having previously subjected myself to the awful acting of fellow UFC star Rich Franklin in the terrible direct-to-video Cyborg Soldier, I had little hope for the man they call “Rampage”. Apart from occasionally mumbling his lines into his chest, he does quite well, making B.A. his own while kicking ass and drawing a number of big laughs himself.
Neeson mostly sleepwalks through his role, but after his recent personal tragedies, I can’t begrudge him if he wants to take it easy, chomp some cigars and say “I love it when a plan comes together.” He seems to be having some fun with it, and that should count for something.
Unfortunately, for an action movie, the action here just isn’t very good. While there are a couple of inventive and fun sequences to be found, the bulk of it is just as chopped up and tough to follow as that of Prince of Persia. This is a bit baffling to me, as director Joe Carnahan’s last film was Smokin’ Aces, a movie whose key strength was its remarkably stylish action. The A-Team has good style when it’s at rest, but put it in motion and things get murky.
I realize I haven’t said anything about what the film is actually about, but if you’ve ever seen the show, then what do I really need to tell you? The team are an elite unit of Army rangers who are set up and betrayed during a particularly risky mission. Imprisoned by the very institution they’ve dedicated their lives to, they must break out of jail and clear their names. Aiding them in their quest for redemption is shifty CIA agent “Lynch” (Patrick Wilson), while Jessica Biel plays an old flame of Peck’s tasked with taking them down.
What I enjoyed most about the film, even more than the lead performances, was its locations. Filmed almost entirely in the Vancouver and Squamish areas of British Columbia, the movie tries to pass off Downtown Vancouver as a wide array of different cities around the globe, while making use of the gorgeous landscapes of B.C.’s west coast. Having been away from home for more than six weeks now, it was nice to spend a few hours in my city, albeit through the silver screen.
While it won’t be nominated for awards any time soon, it was a lot better than I had expected it to be. Remember, I’m still trying to write a negative review at some point here, so I was skeptical. It just won me over. It’s not without problems, but for a movie saddled with telling an origin story most of the audience already knows (even if it has been updated to fit the Iraq War), it manages to keep it fresh. Its problems can be corrected, and if the sequel-teasing cameo in the closing moments is any indication, count me in for another round with this team.