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When I heard that they were making a movie of The A-Team, I fully expected a Thanksgiving-size turkey. I was never a massive fan of the TV series, which despite the running theme of good guys versus the government always felt like a smug, popular-culture expression of Ronald Reagan's politics. Just because you can remember the catchphrases doesn't mean it was any good.
The TV show was formulaic down to having exactly the same stunt - a car spinning over sideways - in every episode. Why bother making a film of it? Since there have been few enjoyable remakes of old American TV shows - only the Ben Stiller / Owen Wilson parody of Starsky and Hutch springs to mind - the omens were not good.
The film version of The A-Team is not merely over-the-top. It's in a geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above over-the-top. Ridiculous does not even begin to describe it.
There's the way 'Hannibal' Smith (Liam Neeson), having been beaten half to death by crooked Mexican cops, avoids being shot with his own gun by the forward thinking of taking the firing pin out - and then uses said firing pin to free himself from his handcuffs which he then puts on the two nasty-looking dogs sent to finish him off. And then says 'I love it when a plan comes together!'
Then there's the way Smith randomly chances upon another former US Army Ranger, BA Baracus (played by cage-fighting star Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) - who has just had to beat up an entire gang of Mexican smugglers to get his beloved GMC van back - in the middle of the Mexican desert. The two of them go off to rescue Smith's partner, 'Faceman' Peck (Bradley Cooper), crashing into the gang's camp just as 'Face' is about to be burned alive (although he's still laughing and joking about it all, naturally).
The crew then dash off to a local mental asylum where they are told that the best pilot (and biggest lunatic ever), Captain HM 'Howling Mad' Murdock, can be found. Having sprung Murdock, the four make their escape in a hospital chopper which is then chased by the nutty Mexicans in a helicopter gunship. Having used a variety of ludicrous means to evade the gunship's missiles - including stalling their chopper to avoid heatseekers - the fearless four cross into US airspace where a jet fighter is conveniently ready to shoot down the Mexicans.
None of these facts are spoilers. All of these things happen before the opening titles.
The A-Team is like Hollywood Action Movie Lasagne: it's a layer of cliché, followed by a layer of implausibility, followed by another layer of cliché and so on, with the whole lot finished off with a sickly rich layer of computer-generated special effects. There's one spectacular set-piece after another. If anything, The A-Team tries just too damned hard to blow us away, to the point where the possibility that anything that is displayed on screen could actually happen becomes inconceivable.
While they were blowing all that money on CGI, they clearly didn't bother spending much on make-up. Liam Neeson's grey hair looks like it was done by the people responsible for the 'before' shots on those Just For Men adverts. In other words, it's every bit as implausible as the rest of the film.
And just when the implausibility ratings couldn't get any higher, the woman pursuing our friendly rogues, far from looking like The Freak from Prisoner Cell Block H (as you might expect a ball-breaking military chick to look), wears high heels, a sleek black leather coat and looks like Jessica Biel. (Oh, hang on, it is Jessica Biel.)
And yet, after watching half an hour of this utter nonsense, I noticed something else: I hadn't stopped smiling.
As one high-octane, tongue-in-cheek incident followed another, I found myself muttering 'No way!' as frequently as BA Baracus was grunting 'This is bullshit, man!'. In other words, a lot. Because the truth is that The A-Team is fun. Just leave your reality check at the door.
Not that action movies should ever try to be kitchen-sink dramas. In fact, this is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink drama. So it's one 'gag' - in the old Hollywood sense - after another. It's as much an homage to Buster Keaton, albeit a very loud, violent homage, as it is to the original A-Team TV show. And at least it doesn't take itself as seriously as Mission Impossible.
It's also got 'FRANCHISE' stamped all over it. At the very least, expect a sequel. For those familiar with the TV series, where Hannibal, Face, BA and Murdock are soldiers of fortune in the Los Angeles underground, this film is like a prequel: it ends where the TV series begins.
And don't worry if don't catch it at the cinema. If you've got a problem, and you know where to find a Blockbuster, you can hire The A- Team. On DVD, in a month or two, at least.
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