Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The A-Team (2010)

"Because Over-Kill is Underrated, My Friend"

I was never a huge fan of the TV version of "The A-Team," still in syndication around the country.  A male version of "Charlie's Angels," with a for-hire team of whack-job mercenaries (that the producers claimed was inspired by the odd-ball cops of "Hill Street Blues") it was a huge hit until it ran out of steam, cycling through the script-library of adventure shows—a kind of manic, cartoon hybrid of "The Rockford Files" and "Mission: Impossible."

Because the source material was rather poor, the news of a big-screen remake was not the sort that would make one hyper-anticipatory. Just the opposite; "The A-Team" sounded like a B-movie waiting to happen, perhaps even falling lower on the alphabetical scale if the creatives involved were as by-the-playbook as the series runners. 

Happily—giddily—the folks making "The A-Team" knew what worked with the old series and have amped it up to the nth degree, even occasionally throwing a TV-trope into the mix to show you they're not taking this too seriously.  It's not Great Cinema—I don't think I can justify paying big bucks seeing it in a theater—but in its looney-toon action sequences, it approaches the manic intensity of child's play with new toys.

It's a sugar-rush.

The old "A's" (Peppard, Benedict, T, and Schultz) were Viet-era grunts, but they've been re-boot-camped to the Persian Punch-Out (and Mr. Cheney says to leave the quagmire comparisons at the door, thanks, and he's got a gun).  But they're still the zany merc's they always were, with their complicated strategems, the MacGyver'd weapons, "you-can't-do-that-in-this-vehicle" stunts, and the "pity the fool."  The cast is shake-your-head-til-it-rattles good:  Liam Neeson, haggard and stogified, makes a great Col. "Hannibal" Smith—it's nice to see Neeson in something a little lighter, the man needs a breakBradley Cooper's "Face" has a perpetual shit-eating grin, and no dolby/no squelch for chatting people up (he's worked out and takes off his shirt a lot, ladies).  As John Milius said about Arnold Schwarzenegger, if Mr. T didn't exist, they would have to construct one, and they've done that, shoe-horning "Rampage" Jackson into the role.  Sadly, he doesn't have "T's" fire that smoulders during the drama scenes, but when required to turn it up to "11," Jackson comes through.  But, the curdled cream-of-the-corps is Sharlto Copley as "Howling Mad" Murdock.  Fans of the show loved the certified (and certifiable) pilot played by Dwight Schultz (bless 'im), but Copley (who played the harried Afrikanner middle-management hack in "District 9"—and you liked him in that), takes the role in his teeth and shakes it 'til it squeeks, flecks of mad-foam and scrambled accents flying in all directions.  Let this be noted in the ledger—he is going to be big.  He's that good.  He's that funny.  He's that creative, and this is him playing in the minors.  There are at least two "Batman" villains with his name on them.  Sharlto. Copley.  Learn to pronounce it.  You'll be using it a lot.

They could have put anybody else in this movie and it would be fine, but Patrick Wilson has a field-day with his ghost-in-the-CIA-machine, Agent Lynch.  Gerald McRaney (one of those TV-elements I talked about earlier) manages to rise above the material, and Jessica Biel rocks her wardrobe, plays the straight man, and nails the movie's best line (the laughter went for 30 seconds, I clocked it).

High praise.  Brownie points for that.  And the writers weren't lazy,* the special effects crews sloppily crafty—8 of them, but they spent more time on details and in-jokes than they do on photo-realism and I can respect that.  But the direction (by Joe Carnehan—remember when he was "the next big thing" with "Narc?") is a mess.  At one point, there's a heated conversation in a photo-booth between two people and you'd swear there was three.  There are odd shots during the mayhem that don't show much—and were obviously "C"-roll cameras—but are there, anyway.  And more than that, the cutting scheme assumes we're morons, flashing back to scenes we might have missed adjusting our drool-cup in case we missed "the point." 

They needn't have bothered.  "The point," such as it is, is to keep sharpening before it gets dull, which the movie threatens to do at several points.  During the "drama," one gets the urge to get a Coke, hit the head, or text-message, until the next hyper-action sequence comes along, like the hysterical tank-bit, or the child's mayhem with a cargo-tanker, comes along.

It's entertaining.  And that's a gift.

But, like a sugar-high, it doesn't last, and makes one antsy for the next supply of "rush."

Isn't there a big-budget "Magnum: P-I" scheduled?

"The A-Team" is a Rental.

* Although you will think they were.  At one point, it will be obvious what is going on, and you will (I have faith in you) go "Wait a minute...that's..."—as every member of the audience I saw it with, did, and felt the need to say it aloud.  I'm going to give the writers credit and say it's another one of the TV-tropes I alluded to earlier—the "obvious switcheroo" that Your Aunt Jessye could figure out.


Simon said...

Sharlto Copley kicks so much ass here I'm going to write a movie for him to star in. I love him so.

Yojimbo_5 said...

There's brilliance there, fo sho'.

I want him to be a star, so bad.

Could you put Sam Rockwell in the movie, as well?

Mike Lippert said...

I won't say anything much here because I'm working on my own review but A) I agree about Copley, he is definatly proving himself to possibly be a great character actor although he did have trouble with the accent from time to time and B) you're being to kind by saying this is a rental.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Well, the last point first: I think it's a Rental, because of its intrinsic entertainment value (as opposed to its worth). It's not a "Waste of Time." It's not a "Cable-Watcher," that you could just encounter. It's a good time. It's not to everybody's taste or humor. It's values are loyalty, as opposed to jingoism (and I realize I'm getting too serious about "The A-Team" so I'll stop).

As far as Copley? What's his accent? My impression was that Murdock's brain is so "cuisinart-on-puree" crazy, that he goes from one to the other with reckless abandon (like everything else). He's a berserker, hewing to the philosophy that "Consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds." And Murdock's brain is a warehouse of hob-goblins. He's not consistent at anything at all, his brain is sparking and sputtering. He's Carrey-scary in that you don't know what you'll get scene from scene.

"I llllliiiike it!"

There ya go, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from soup to nuts. I'm looking forward to reading your review.

The Mad Hatter said...

I'd agree with ya that this is only a rental if it wasn't for the fact that the audience in my theatre seemed to be all over it, laughing like mad and even applauding for one particular incident!

Good silly fun for sure, glad I wasn't the only one who enjoyed it for what it was.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah, the "rental" designation has sparked some debate, but I thought the direction was so slip-shod that I couldn't rate it higher.

And I know the "incident" that you were talking about, and it was the same in the theater I saw it at. Giddy, crazy fun--despite seeing so much of it in previews...and for that reason (its intrinsic entertainment value) that I rated it as high as I did.

Always good to hear from your section of the hat-rack, Tetch. You're doing nice work, by the way. Really enjoying what I'm reading (but you knew that).

The Mad Hatter said...

ACK-tualyyy...the moment I speak of is the manner in which the fourth team member gets busted out of prison.

Everyone enjoyed the flying take too, but that fourth jailbreak actually caused a round of applause, something I haven't been part of outside of a film festival in some time!