The A-Team (review)

B Movie Goodness

Two lines of dialogue clipped out of The A-Team suffice to explain it all. The first comes from Jessica Biel’s army officer Sosa, who says, of Hannibal Smith’s unit of elite commandos, or whatever his A-team is supposed to be, with whom she butts heads repeatedly: “They specialize in the ridiculous.” The second comes from Colonel Hannibal Smith himself, who hoots that “overkill is underrated.”

You know how when they put the peanut butter and the chocolate together and it was like, “Ooo, I didn’t expect it to taste that good”? It’s like that with the ridiculous and the overkill here. Which makes The A-Team completely insane, totally preposterous, and sort of wonderful, in a junk food kind of way.
It’s a lot like Transformers, then — and much to my ongoing stunned amazement, I actually liked that movie (only the first one, not the second). Except basically nothing could really be surprising in Transformers, because no matter what extreme stuff the giant transforming robots from space pulled, you could always tell youself, “Well, they’re giant transforming robots from space: of course they can do that.” Here, though, many stuff is crazy ticklish because it sorta seems that maybe that outlandish stunt might actually work, and this outlandish stunt is perhaps remotely possible without defying the laws of physics. Or at least the cartoon physics holds up for the moment while you’re in the middle of laughing at the outrageousness of it. I haven’t done the math — and I’m not going to — but I think… just maybe… you will believe that a tank can fly.

You want story? There is some to be found here, in between the hilarious prison breakouts and the jumping off of buildings and that awesome thing that Face does in Baghdad to get from the sewer and onto the truck. It’s all a bit of a reboot: We see how the boys, Army Rangers to a one, first met in Mexico: well, Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson: Clash of the Titans, Chloe) and “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper: Valentine’s Day, All About Steve) already knew each other, and were working together to bring down a bad guy, but they just accidentally happened to run into B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson) and Murdock (Sharlto Copley: District 9) at moments when their skills — B.A. is good in a scrape; Murdock is a kickass pilot — were most needed. So right from the get-go, the preposterous is built in.

Then it’s eight years later, they’ve been a team on the right side of the law the whole time, and they’re getting ready to pull out of Baghdad with the rest of the U.S. Army. (I’m not sure whether this is meant to be in some imaginary future, when the U.S. would be decamping from Iraq entirely, or if it’s meant to be just after Saddam Hussein was taken down. But it doesn’t matter.) There’s some stolen currency printing plates that have to be found, and Smith volunteers his guys, but there’s an asshole named Pike (Brian Bloom, one of the screenwriters) who works for, ahem, the Black Forest mercenary outfit, and he wants to go after the plates himself. But wait! There’s also Biel’s (Valentine’s Day, Planet 51) Sosa, who is supposed to be in charge of getting those plates back. And there’s the mysterious CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson: Watchmen, Lakeview Terrace; I can’t recall Wilson ever being this funny before), and he’s obviously up to no good.

It’s like halfway into the movie before the Baghdad job goes bad and Smith and his boys are stripped of their ranks and sent to prison — wrongfully convicted, of course — that you’re like, Oh yeah! They’re supposed to be on the run from the government. And then that starts up, and it just keeps snowballing absurdity to such a delicious degree that even though, okay, it’s yet another retread from the 80s and sequels tend to be boring and you really really wish Hollywood would come up with some new ideas, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we got another A-Team movie after this.

And the best thing? The flick isn’t just inventive with its action and snarky in its dialogue, it’s also cheerfully free of the kind of ugliness that is typical of overblown summertime popcorn movies. There’s no Megan Fox humping a motorcycle, no shucking-and-jiving robots, no fart jokes. And as cartoonish as the movie may be, it does at least offer us actual adult characters, and nods just a little — not so much as to get heavy about it — to adult motivations and adult competence. Thank you, Joe Carnahan (Pride and Glory, Smokin’ Aces) — director and another cowriter — for giving us, in Sosa, a capable, experienced, professional woman who’s still a woman without being a blowup doll, and a character with a real part to play in the story, not just someone around to be eye candy.

And thanks, too, Carnahan, for having Bradley Cooper half naked for a surprising percentage of the runtime; thank you for remembering those members of the audience who are not heterosexual males. Now, if only you could have worked in a fight scene for Cooper and Patrick Wilson, wherein they could have rolled around shirtless for a bit — that would have been so hot.

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