If you were a boy in the 1980s then ‘The A-Team’ probably formed a vital and exciting part of your Saturday teatime viewing. This TV show followed the adventures of four unlikely ‘soldiers of fortune’ who would rescue the downtrodden and helpless through a combination of ingenuity, welding equipment and notoriously inaccurate weaponry.
When viewed today on DVD or the retro TV channels, ‘The A-Team’ seems to be pretty ropey stuff. It was largely held together by the star power of its four leads and the hard work of the programme’s stunt team who, each week, would crawl out from under the wreckage of an upturned vehicle, and on one especially memorable occasion this was a crashed helicopter. These fall guys would then dust themselves off before doing it all over again in the next episode.
Great memories forged in youth are particularly sacred and even nonsense culture can become holy over time. Woe betide anyone who would try to re-create them in their own image. That is exactly what the director Joe Carnahan, along with producers Ridley and Tony Scott, has tried to do by bringing ‘The A-Team’ to the cinema screen twenty-three years after the original mercenaries fired off their last round. The storyline has been updated so that the heroes are now veterans of the Iraq rather than the Vietnam War but otherwise the gang is all here.
There is the team’s cigar chomping leader Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson,) ladies man Templeton Peck (Bradley Cooper,) grumpy muscle mountain ‘B.A’ Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and bonkers chopper pilot ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock (Sharlto Copley.) This, of course, is the biggest hurdle for fans of the original to overcome. For the character’s names are familiar but the faces sure ain’t, with the TV cast falling victim to old age or, in the case of original ‘Hannibal’ George Peppard, the grim reaper.
The film attempts a brief and frenetic introduction set in the Mexican desert showing how the boys got together in the first place. This is thrilling but noisy and confusing with most of the dialogue being drowned out by the music (yes, the good old ‘da,da,da, daaa!’ is in there somewhere) and all the gun fire. It is a blight of summer movies that the actor’s speech is always less important than the sound effects. Surely, it was never like that with Indiana Jones or ‘Back to the Future.’ Perhaps, in the same way that the hearing of a new mother is attuned to the cries of their child, the audio facilities of teenage boys are perfectly in synch with blockbuster soundtracks.
Once ‘The A-Team’ is together, the movie jumps forward to the Middle East where they find themselves present at the fall of Saddam. There is an insightful attempt to question the legality of the conflict…no, of course not; the whole thing is presented as if it were one big fun time BBQ. It is here that the quartet finds themselves on a mission to recover stolen treasury plates from Iraqi insurgents only to be wrongly accused of stealing the plates themselves and sentenced to ten years inside. Prison cannot hold them for long, as all fans of the TV show will know, and with the help of a shady CIA agent called Lynch (Patrick Wilson) they each bust out in a variety of amusing ways.
The rest of the film involves the team attempting to recover the plates and clear their name but really the plot is a peg on which to hang several, very entertaining, action sequences. True to the film’s roots each is more daring and outrageous than the next. There is an exhilarating high speed abseil down an office block and a climatic version of the shell game involving the use of huge shipping containers. Acolytes of the show, who feared that the film would rely more on violence and actually break the ‘no killing rule’ which made the original’s fire fights look so ridiculous, can calm themselves a little. This team does shoot a lot straighter than their predecessors and there are deaths but nothing that would prevent a ‘12A’ rating. Most importantly, the problems encountered by the film’s heroes are solved mainly through invention rather than just pure firepower.
The best way to approach ‘The A-Team’ is to go without preconceptions or any hope that it will somehow help you recapture your lost youth. It won’t. Yes, the actors are different and the film is slightly darker, without the blatant silliness of its source material, but taken on its own merits this is still a lot of fun. The performers do not try to emulate the original cast members (stay past the credits for a couple of cameos) but create their characters from the page. Sharlto Copley (from ‘District 9’) has the most to chew on as the ‘crazy fool’ Murdock so he inevitably comes out best.
By far the biggest void is the absence of Mr T who played the original B.A. His was a presence that was not so much larger than life as bigger than the planet and there was not a great deal of difference between his own persona and that of his on- screen alter ego. Perhaps bearing this in mind, the producers of the movie version have opted for another non-actor, Ultimate Fighting champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, to fill B.A’s formidable boots. Jackson has little or no chance, really, but he tries his best, being very good at growling and acting tough.
Die-hard fans of the TV show will complain that this is a pale imitation of the original but then that was all it was ever going to be for them. Exceeding fan expectations and recreating all the warm recollections of days gone by was one mission that this new ‘A-Team’ could never hope to pull off.