If you grew up in the 80s watching The A-Team on TV, you can't approach this big-budget Hollywood "re-imagining" without prejudice. The basic presumption is that no actor can trump the iconic status of Mr T; no movie can re-create the gloriously lo-rent gonzo stunts; and no script-writer can re-create the camaraderie between the original gang.
The early signs from the studio gave no clarity or reassurance. Writer-director Joe Carnahan was, after all, the guy behind the brilliantly gritty cop thriller, NARC, but also the ridonkulous hi-energy guns'n'laughs flicks SMOKIN' ACES 1 and 2. Which direction would he take with THE A-TEAM? Would he go for a gritty Bourne-style grown-up re-make? Or would he make a camp spoof along the lines of the STARSKY AND HUTCH remake? I wasn't expecting a lot from his co-writers - one of whom was responsible for the deathly dull WOLVERINE flick and the other a complete unknown. Casting was likewise a mixed bag. Liam Neeson as cigar-chomping, plan-lovin' Hannibal Smith? Okay, so he cemented his hard-man act in TAKEN, but did he have the necessary charm and mischief? Quinton "The Rampage" Jackson as BA Baracus - okay Mr T was no Actors Studio guest, but seriously - a former UFC fighter? Pretty boy Bradley Cooper as the charming, ladies-man, "Face" - okay I could see that. And I was really pleased to see Sharlto Copley, fresh of out of success in District 9 tapped for the literally mad helicopter pilot Howling Mad Murdock.
After all the anticipation, what did we get? As one might've expected: a bit of a mixed bag. Where this re-imagining works best is when it shows the gang hanging out together. The casting really, truly, honestly works. You believe that these guys are good friends, and an effective stealth army unit. You believe that they would put their lives on the line for each other and to regain their honour having been framed by a nefarious bunch of mercenaries and probably the CIA. Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley are very funny indeed; Liam Neeson has the necessary heft; and this more than offsets "Rampage's" inability to articulate or emote. I really love the way the script gave us the back-story to BA's fear of flying; I love that Murdock isn't just a harmless nut but has a genuine element of danger to him; I love the mischevious post-modern jokes - in particular, a scene where the crew crash through a cinema screen showing a TV episode of The A-Team; and I REALLY loved the absurdist stunts.
Problem is, this post-modern, laugh-out-loud spoof movie is spliced together with an earnest, wannabe politically serious, Bourne-like action flick. And the two halves just don't go together. So alongside a stunt where a tank is literally flown through the air, we have Joe Carnahan trying to make a serious point about the insidious use of unaccountable mercenaries in Iraq and the counter-veiling power of the CIA. And the gonzo stylings of the original are replaced with very glossy, very loud CGI set-pieces and a lot of Bourne-style "gritty" camera-work. Worst of all, crime-of-all-crimes, they give the Faceman emotional heft. I mean, nice try, and Bradley Cooper plays it for all it's worth, but if you want to go down that route, at least give him someone to play opposite with more acting chops than Jessica Biel.
Additional tags: Roger Barton, Jim May, Mauro Fiore, Alan Silvestri, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Skip Woods, Brian Bloom.
THE A-TEAM is on release in the US, Egypt, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Colombia, Estonia, Finland, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Romania, Belgium, France, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Norway, Argentina, India and Syria. It opens on July 29th in Portugal, Spain and the UK. It opens on August 5th in Hungary; August 12th in Germany; August 20th in Japan and South Africa.