Directed by Joe Carnahan
June 11, 2010
An elite group of Army Rangers is wrongly commit convicted for a crime they did not commit after which they escape and go on the run to clear their names.
With the original series a favorite of mine I went into this film wanting to love it and there are certainly moments to love. The original series was a fun adventure show with a smattering of serious moments. Noted for the number of bullets that never connected and the high number of survivors despite serious crashes, it had great action and was just an enjoyable show to watch. It was appointment television back then. There was humor and snappy dialogue with cool characters and an awesome van. This movie adaption goes through the motions but never quite captures the feel of the show or even a feel of its own.
First off, I have to say that the casting is pretty good in this film. Everyone cast in the iconic roles is not only a good actor but nails their respective part at least when it comes to the A-Team. Liam Neeson is a great actor and a great action film star. He has some big shoes to film as John “Hannibal” Smith. George Peppard originated the part and created a charming madman of a heroic character that was as a creative thinker as his nickname implied. Neeson comes pretty close to that but can never capture the twinkle Peppard had as Smith. In the series Smith was the mastermind behind the group and here he is more of a manager and maybe that is the issue. He is not the one that really gets his team out of prison and the character of Face is the one that comes up with the plan in the finale and not Hannibal.
Speaking of Face, Bradley Cooper takes over as Templeton “Face” Peck. Always loved that name. Interestingly he is the third actor to play the part. Tim Dunigan (most famous for playing the lead role of Captain Jonathan Power in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future) originated the role in the series pilot but was replaced in the show by Dirk Benedictwho was the man that defined the role. Benedict makes a cameo appearance in the film as Pensacola Prisoner Milt. Cooper has all the charm and charisma of the character.
Where things get screwed up is with the introduction of new character Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel). Giving Face a girlfriend that he starts chasing around and has feelings for during the film kind of takes away from the earlier implied womanizing aspect of the character in the film itself and is a real change to the character in general. “I’m going to sleep with a Mexican General’s mistress, but I really love Charissa.” That seems like two extremes for a single character.
MMA fighter and occasional actor Quinton “Rampage” Jackson takes over from the legendary Mr. T as B.A. Baracus. Physically a good choice as the team muscle he is also able to channel character once they dump the whole pacifist nonsense that the writers decided the character needed to go through. Why? What was the freaking point of that? It just took him out of the action at necessary points where his actions would have ended the film right then. It was a bad plot device used in the place of better writing.
Sharlto Copley was a good choice for H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock. Dwight Schultz originated the part in the series and has a cameo in the film as Murdock’s neurologist. I draw issue with the characterization of Murdock in the film. In the TV show you were left with the impression Murdock was not actually crazy (at least not to the point of needing institutionalization) but merely faking it at times. That was alluded to at several points by multiple characters, but it seemed that doctors were unable to ever prove it. He just needed to get himself together after Vietnam but wanted to be available to his comrades.
Murdock’s institutionalization came off as just an easier way to get him out repeatedly when they needed him while he healed. This begs the question of the series: why did not the army put Murdock under tighter security? This was the action-adventure series from the 80s and not something too deep.
They get the relationship between B.A. and Murdock wrong as well. Here B.A. clearly dislikes Murdock. The only reason they interact is because they are stuck together. In the series they were close if reluctant (on B.A.’s side) friends. Murdock in the movie just torments his comrade and is completely uncaring over how he feels.
Lynch. I must mention Lynch. In this film “Lynch” is a general named used by the CIA for its agents in the field. In the series Colonel Lynch (William Lucking) was the commander of Fort Bragg where the stockade was that the A-Team escaped from. Since they got out under his watch he was charged with bringing them back. Here Lynch (Patrick Wilson) is some shady and slimy CIA agent who is part of the frame up and more or less backs the team’s escape and tracking of General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) to get the plates back. I am not sure why they needed to add this dark and CIA operative aspect. Worse, this team that was the best of the best of the best needed HIS help to get out. Really?
Where this movie largely falls apart is that they seem to be trying to make this into some type of serious action thriller type film which is more serious tone than the original show ever had but also mix in awkward Family Guy interstitial style type humor. The scene in the car when Lynch is getting ready to kill Brock Pike (Brian Bloom) exemplifies this.
I watch the extended version so if this is in the theatrical release, I’m sorry but why is the US government sending an elite army ranger unit into Mexico to take out a corrupt Mexican general? That never gets really explained. Nor does it make too much sense. As far as I know taking out corrupt officials in other governments is not part of the army rangers duties and is generally considered an act of war.
I know this may be petty, but the iconic theme song is largely missing from the movie. There was a time in television when every show had a theme song and the theme song communicated the show. The A-Team theme song not only communicated the show but it’s just a great piece of music as well. We get a bit in the movie in the hospital and then at the end credits and not much more. Why? Why was it avoided? Put it in.
The action is not bad. This film has some cool scenes but feels a bit over the top and not in the good way that the series had. One great scene though-and one moment I could see popping up in the series-was the instance with the tank. It was just a great moment.
In the end the A-Team is not a good version of the series despite some good casting. It does not appear as if their minds behind it wanted to mimic the show or that director Joe Carnahan quite understood the material. As is often the case, he and those behind it did a vague Google search and slapped something together. Producer of the original series Stephen J. Cannell has his name attached but either he was there just to add legitimacy and provided no input or his thoughts and ideas were totally ignored. I can see no other option.
Something fun though is in the hospital scene where the team breaks out Murdock we see on the screen the names Reginald Barclay and G.F. Starbuck in the fictional movie the patients are watching. Barclay is Schultz’s character in Star Trek: The Next Generation and G.F. Starbuck references Benedict’s character of Lieutenant Starbuck from the original (and superior) Battlestar Galactica.
The A-Team is a film that never quite clicks. If you are a fan of the series or just a fan of action in general it is nothing special. Skip it!