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Friday, Aug. 20, 2010
Patriotism of 'The A-Team' more suited to Reagan era
There's no greater sign of the creative bankruptcy in Hollywood these days than the fact that pretty much any old TV series, no matter how stale or silly, is ripe for a remake. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a TV series from my youth that hasn't been remade.
"Charlie's Angels," "S.W.A.T.," "Starsky & Hutch," "The Dukes of Hazzard," "The Brady Bunch," "Scooby Doo," "Bewitched," "Lost In Space" . . . the list goes on and on, and good luck finding one that wasn't a big steaming pile of bad. The only thing that's amazing is they have yet to tackle that "Moby Dick" of perpetual re-runs, "Gilligan's Island." Oh, wait: Warner Bros. has that in production. (And I'll give you even odds that Hugh Grant is cast as The Professor, 3:1 on Jay Baruchel as Gilligan, and 10:1 that it's going to suck Twizzlers.)
The warm glow of childhood comfort cathode rays fades quickly in the harsh light of adulthood, ¥1,800 tickets, and the inescapable feeling that vast effort and resources have been poured into aping something that just wasn't that great in the first place. Which brings us to "The A-Team." A staple of early-1980s TV, the show featured the likably flaky bouncer-turned-actor Mr. T, who with his mohawk, beyond-bling style, and penchant for calling everyone a "fool" or "sucka" was a memorably cartoonish character. The series' premise involved four special forces operatives who were accused of a crime they didn't commit in Vietnam and subsequently wound up working as mercenaries on the run from the law. It was basically "Mission: Impossible" for the Reagan era, with dumbed-down plots, ramped-up firepower and utterly gratuitous use of explosions, a TV cousin to the 'roid-rage action that Arnold Schwarznegger and Sylvester Stallone were championing on the big-screen.
Hollywood looks at the old TV show and sees a hit that had high ratings and a four-year run, i.e. name recognition and a built-in fan base. (The same thing that gives them a penchant for comic book and video game adaptations.) Of course, one could similarly peruse the old "A-Team" and see a show whose ratings plummeted in its last season, having clearly worn out its welcome. There is a season, turn, turn, turn, and all that, but the feel-good jingoism of the era of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan feels a bit out of place in this decade of endless military quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then again, nobody's been going to all those bummer war on terrorism films, so maybe hard-boiled director Joe Carnahan ("Narc," "Smoking Aces") is onto something.
Nevertheless, the new A-Team has all sorts of rollicking adventures against Mexican drug lords, Iraqi Ba'athist insurgents and those most evil of bad guys, U.S. paramilitary contractors. (And the firm formerly known as Blackwater gets skewered here.) Liam Neeson appears as the team's cigar- chomping leader, Col. Hannibal Smith, while Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") plays ladykiller Faceman Peck, Sharlto Copley appears as reckless pilot "Howling Mad" Murdock, while Quinton "Rampage" Jackson does his best to fill Mr. T's combat boots as B.A. Baracus, although without the 10 kg of gold jewelry. Patrick Wilson also steps up as a duplicitous CIA operative.
The plot is very clearly an "origins issue" — to use the comic book term — telling how the A-Team were set-up by the CIA and private contractors to take the fall for missing millions in counterfeit greenbacks that they were supposed to retrieve from Iraqi insurgents. Franchises are the new stars in Hollywood these days, and you can bet your last counterfeit dollar there will be more "A-Teams" if this one makes millions.
Overall, it's a pretty run-of-the-mill action movie. Clever bits, like a meticulously orchestrated convoy raid, or freefalling from an airplane inside a tank (toward a very hard landing), are interspersed with pretty rote firefights, shallow to the point of forgettable characters and not nearly enough jokes, which are pretty essential considering it's impossible to take this stuff seriously.
Having said all that, the finale of "The A-Team," with its endless shootout on a dock in Los Angeles, isn't all that different from the climax of "Inception," except that one has its brow all furrowed and is convinced of its genius, while the other smilingly knows it's crap.