One of the most beloved of TV shows from the 80s gets the big screen treatment and unfortunately the result is a deafening mass of explosions with a paper-thin plot and characters which don’t live up to their small screen namesakes.
The plot (as far as it matters) sees man with the plan Colonel Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) lead an elite squad of war veterans – pilot and nutcase Howlin’ Murdoch (District 9’s Sharlto Copley), smooth ladies man Face (The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper) and walking man mountain BA Baracus (UFC Heavyweight Rampage Jackson) – in a convoluted mission to retrieve engraved printing plates from the Middle East, lest they be used to mint an unlimited supply of US dollars.
The film is heavy on action – deafening explosions are two-a-second and the constant rattle of gunfire will threaten to shake the fillings out of your teeth. But the direction is so choppy and shaky that it’s often hard to tell what’s going on – it’s difficult not to suspect that director Joe Carnahan has being studying Michael Bay a little too closely.
Not only is the action fragmented but it actually makes it hard to hear what’s going on – the cast are practically shouting at each for the entire duration and even then whole chunks of dialogue are swallowed up by the sound of shattering metal. An utterly implausible scene with a flying tank is rather good fun and captures the ridiculous tone of the TV series – Jessica Biel’s resigned weariness at the team’s wildcard antics is one of the funnier parts of the movie but she’s adds nothing but needless eye candy.
But the film is hamstrung by the lack of a decent villain and plans which make very little sense and offer little satisfying payoff. The final plan in particular (bizarrely concocted by Face instead of Hannibal) is a convoluted and unsatisfying mess involving the destruction of a US Naval Yard and a three card monte with shipping containers. Quite why Face is making the plan is not explained – after all it’s Hannibal that loves it when a plan comes together, Face just loves it when a tan comes together.
The new cast tries hard to ape the old one with mixed results. Liam Neeson feels decidedly out of place as the team’s cigar-chomping elder statesman, wittering on about plans so often in the early part of the film that you start to wonder if he’s taken a couple of knocks to the noggin.
Sharlto Copley as Murdoch fares better and does a credible impression of Dwight Schultz, treading that fine line between madness and genius. Bradley Cooper’s Face is less successful – he’s definitely got the looks but lacks Dirk Benedict’s charm.
BA was always going to be a casting problem – after all, how do you live up to a figure as iconic as Mr T? UFC fighter Rampage Jackson is suitably beefy but he lacks Mr T’s charisma and he’s given very little do – his fabled van is wiped out with the first few minutes he’s the relegated to simply looking mean.
A particularly cringe-worthy plot point has BA eschew violence only to be convinced to kill again by Liam Neeson quoting Gandhi. The resultant high-fiving after BA snaps a bad guy’s neck is decidedly uncomfortable – no wonder Mr T himself was not best pleased.
If you want to go deaf, want a throwaway action movie that trades off the memory of a beloved TV series, don’t care about a coherent a plot and no one else can help, then you need The A-Team. Everyone else should go and watch something else.