Remember that feeling you had while watching the big screen remakes of The Avengers or Thunderbirds as something precious was destroyed before your eyes? Or even that mild depression that came with the realisation that the Mission: Impossible movies were privileging dumb action and grinning Cruise over the ingenuity that made the old TV show worth watching? Well, you can’t get that from the film of The A-Team, can you? Given that the old show was basically a dumbed-down M:I for the ‘80s, there’s at least not much threat that something which could have been great has been recycled as pap. The A-Team was the show Stephen Cannell devised when his cleverer ideas started being overlooked, and its major achievement was not being as bad as Airwolf or Knight Rider. So, coming along after The Losers and before The Expendables, here’s another film in which a bunch of guys get together and blow shit up in the cause of clearing their names – in fact, not only does it have the same plot as The Losers, but the climax takes place at one of the locations blown up in the earlier film (though more containers get toppled on the LA docks this time). Another layer is added because this bunch of heroes are persecuted by a Blackwater-type private security firm as well as a weaselly CIA agent (Patrick Wilson), and indeed the two factions of baddies fall out during the film to keep the plot going only to get back together for the final showdown with the good guys.
So, it’s undemanding nonsense, but at least Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley give it a bit of added invention and some dirty fighting champ (Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson) doesn’t entirely disgrace himself replacing Mr T. Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz, who originated the Cooper and Copley roles, pop up after the credits to do jokes which aren’t as good as the Paul Michael Glaser/David Soul cameo in the Starsky and Hutch movie. Jessica Biel has the sorry role of nice girl in uniform who flirts a bit with Cooper but tags along in the wake of the plot, tidying things up and looking earnest. It serves as an attenuated pilot, showing how General Hannibal Smith (Neeson) got together with Faceman (Cooper), BA (Jackson) and Murdoch (Copley) in the first place on a mission in Mexico – and then how they were betrayed, disavowed, tried and jailed after a set-up during the withdrawal from Iraq (replacing the Vietnam of the original) only to escape, reunite, and go after the gits who set them up.
There’s a does-anyone-really-care mcguffin (plates that can be used to print US money) and we traipse around the globe a bit, mostly so things can be shot at, blown up or crashed. Like a lot of modern action movies, the sound mix is set to show off the great explosions but obscures a lot of the shouted-in-the-heat-of-battle dialogue: the script may have funny lines wittily delivered, but you’ll need to check out the subs on the DVD to find out what they are. The character arc given BA is that while in prison he vows to live a peaceful life and lets his Mohawk grow out but shaves his head again and kills an especially vile bad guy to show that he’s all right now – though not stressed too much, this does seem to be a lift from Hot Shots, Part Deux, where Miguel Ferrer played a mercenary too traumatised to kill again who cheerfully slaughtered millions after he was cured. Director-writer Joe Carnahan, upping the budget level from Narc and Smokin’ Aces, gets to fill the screen with slightly fakey explosions (I’ll generously excuse the CGI imperfections as an homage to ‘80s cheese); I’m still not sure whether the world needed a stupider Mission: Impossible in the first place.