Monday, June 14, 2010


Anybody who enjoyed the landmark NBC-TV action series “The A-Team” will probably want to see new big-screen adaptation. “Smokin’ Aces” director Joe Carnahan and scenarists Skip Woods and Brian Bloom have adhered to both the spirit and formula of the George Peppard classic. Our original heroes were elusive, but wrongly-convicted government fugitives on the lam, one jump ahead of military authorities, and the film “The A-Team” sticks to that premise like glue. Although the series that co-starred Mr. T was set against Vietnam, Carnahan and his scribes have updated the storyline so the action occurs in Iraq. Since more than twenty years has elapsed since the series left the air, Twentieth Century Fox must have decided that the movie do double-duty as an origins outing rather than a sequel. After all, contemporary audiences probably weren’t watching television when the original series aired from 1983 to 1987. Liam Neeson of “Taken” quite capably takes over the role that George Peppard originated. Bradley Cooper of “The Hangover” steps easily into Dirk Benedict’s shoes as ‘Faceman.’ Newbie Sharlto Copley of “District 9” is every bit as loony tunes as Dwight Schultz was as the harebrained Murdock. Finally, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson plays ghetto-tough B.A. Baracus, the role that made Laurence Tureaud into an overnight sensation as Mr. T. Essentially, “The A-Team” (**** out of ****) qualifies as a prequel to the television series. The filmmakers show how the eponymous foursome met and wound up in the dire predicament that led to their weekly exploits.

“The A-Team” concerns honor, deception, betrayal, lies, and revenge. Colonel Hannibal Smith, a U.S. Army Ranger, is getting the pulp smashed out of him as the action unfolds in gritty Mexico. A corrupt Mexican policeman laughs at Hannibal because our hero handed over a bundle of greenbacks to a dirty cop. They cannot get Hannibal to cough up anything but blood, so they decide to ice him. They try to kill him with his own pistol, but Hannibal has removed the firing pin, and the corrupt cop doesn’t want his henchman to shoot him with his own gun because he fears that U.S. authorities will trace the killing back to them. They leave Hannibal with his impaired firearm and turn two vicious dogs loose on him. Before the dogs can reach him, Hannibal reassembles his weapon and his waiting for the mutts. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck is tied up and stuck in the middle of several tires while a higher corrupt cop, General Javier Tuco (Yul Vazquez of "American Gangster") wants to know who the pretty boy is working for. They plan to strung Peck up, and General Tuco is furious because Faceman had sex with his wife. B.A. Baracus is cruising through the countryside in his signature black mini-van when he happens upon an escaped Hannibal. They share U.S. Ranger tattoos and bond, after Hannibal pumps a slug into him. Just as the villains are about to hang Peck, Hannibal and B.A. arrive like the cavalry in the nick of time. Afterward, our heroes grip each other’s hands and set off to a hospital to pick up Murdock. The angry Tuco masses his forces and retaliates with greater firepower. Our protagonists spring Murdock from the hospital, and he flies them out in a Red Cross helicopter, only to discover that another chopper armed with missiles is pursuing them. Murdock performs some aerodynamically impossible stunts to elude the missiles. This entire, prolonged, bullet-riddled, action-packed sequence with the main credit titles popping up occasionally against the scenery and the gunfire resembles the pre-credit sequence from a James Bond escapade. Carnahan never lets the action stall for a moment and he adopts a storytelling strategy that keeps audiences up to snuff with the “A-Team’s” shenanigans. Basically, Carnahan lets the characters explain what they plan to do and shows them carrying out the plan as they explain it. The recent "Sherlock Holmes" movie did the same thing.

The story lunges ahead eight years into the future after our heroes have completed 80 missions. The setting is Iraq after the war has concluded. Hannibal and his men are considered the best special operations unit in the U.S. military. Hannibal has caught wind of a hush-hush, top-secret operation that he feels only his elite quartet can handle. It seems that terrorists in Baghdad have obtained stolen U.S. Mint printing plates and have run off over $1 billion worth of $100 bills. The bigger diplomatic picture prohibits Hannibal’s oldest friend, General Morrison (Gerald McRaney of CBS-TV’s “Simon & Simon”), from issuing Hannibal official orders to recover both the plates and the money. Instead, Morrison appears to have struck a deal with a ruthless band of mercenaries called Black Forest, led by Pike (Brian Bloom of “Terminal”), who have no qualms about murder as long as they are paid in full. Meantime, our heroes go in, snatch the plates and a trailer-load of counterfeit currency. All too suddenly, everything goes south for Hannibal and his team. An explosion obliterates the trailer, and Morrison dies in another explosion himself. Our heroes are arrested for disobeying orders. Everybody, including one of Peck’s ex-girlfriends, Captain Charisa Sosa (sexy Jessica Biel of “Stealth”), believes that Hannibal’s team and Pike’s gunmen collaborated on the mission. The Army court-martials the quartet and sends them off to serve stretches in different prisons. Hannibal refuses to accept this miscarriage of justice and finds himself an ally in Lynch (Patrick Wilson of "Watchmen") a mysterious C.I.A. agent. Although he is incarcerated in a top military lock-up, Hannibal has been cooking up a plan when he meets with Lynch. In no time at all, our heroes escape from prison and go after Pike.

Hollywood has struggled without success to resurrect other televisions series, but they have failed more often than not and failed miserably. “Starsky and Hutch,” “Wild Wild West,” “I Spy,” “The Avengers,” and “The Mod Squad” were catastrophes. Happily, “The A-Team” is a straightforward, larger-than-life, high-octane, action movie that never wears out its welcome. Moreover, “The A-Team” is better than its predecessor. Predictable for the most part, it is nevertheless an amusing as well as absorbing, with terrific performances, snappy dialogue, and a sense of audacity. The biggest differences between the PG-13 rated “A-Team” and the original series is that people die, and the big-screen adaptation adopts a grittier approach. Of course, “The A-Team” is just another big, noisy, slam-bang actioneers, but these Carnahan and company know how to slam and bang! They haven’t overlooked anything in terms of hardware so “The A-Team” looks as slick and sophisticated as a James Bond extravaganza. They have also jammed in enough intrigue for a Jason Bourne thriller. This explosive adventure opus has crowd pleaser branded on it with its international locations, high voltage action sequences, and murderous villains.

No comments: