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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The A-Team

Guest Reviewer: NIX, Beyond Hollywood

Liam Neeson ... Hannibal

Bradley Cooper ... Face

Jessica Biel ... Charissa Sosa

Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson ... B.A. Baracus

Sharlto Copley ... Murdock

Patrick Wilson ... Lynch

Gerald McRaney ... Gen. Russell Morrison

Henry Czerny ... Director McCready

Yul Vazquez ... Gen. Javier Tuco

Brian Bloom ... Pike

Maury Sterling ... Gammons

Terry Chen ... Ravech

Omari Hardwick ... Chopshop Jay

David Hugghins ... Oskar Shunt

Jacob Blair ... Agent Blair

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Synopsis: WARNING! Contains Spoilers!

The film opens in Mexico, with Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith held captive by two corrupt Mexican officers, working for the renegade General Tuco. Hannibal escapes after being left to be fed on by two guard dogs, and sets out to rescue his comrade-in-arms Templeton "Faceman" Peck, who is himself held captive by Tuco at Tuco's private ranch, where Face had seduced the General's wife. Hannibal makes it to the ranch in time to save Face from a grisly demise, after enlisting disgraced Ranger Bosco B.A. Baracus, driving to the rescue in B.A.'s souped-up GMC Vandura van. With the three men now on the run from the enraged Tuco, they stop in at a nearby Army hospital, to recruit the services of insane pilot H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock. In a medical chopper, they engage Tuco in a vicious aerial dogfight, which results in B.A.'s permanent fear of flying, and ends when they manage to lure Tuco's chopper into American airspace, where it's destroyed by a U.S. F-22 Raptor - the capstone to an elaborate plan put together by Hannibal.

The film then moves forward "eight years and eighty successful missions later", where the team - now a highly-regarded, elite combat unit - is stationed in Iraq. Hannibal is contacted by CIA Agent Lynch, who reveals that Iraqi insurgents are in possession of U.S. treasury plates being used to manufacture counterfeit currency. Lynch wants Hannibal and his team to steal the plates and over 1 billion dollars in counterfeit cash that's due to be moved out of Baghdad. At the same time, DCIS Captain Charissa Sosa arrives on the scene, warning her ex-lover Face, whom along with the rest of team she has disdain for, to stay away from the plates and out of Baghdad. Against the advice of his commanding officer, General Morrison, Hannibal agrees to steal the plates, albeit in an unofficial "Black Ops" mission. The mission is successful, but when the team returns to base to meet their commanding officer, both the shipping container carrying the money and Morrison's Humvee are destroyed by men from the private security firm Black Forest (a fictionalized version of Blackwater), led by the ruthless Brock Pike. With Morrison the only proof that they were, in fact, acting on the U.S.'s behalf, the team is arrested, tried, dishonorably discharged and sentenced to ten years in federal prison.

Six months later, a still-incarcerated Hannibal is visited by Lynch once more, who reveals that Pike may be trying to sell the plates with the help of a mysterious Arab backer. Hannibal, who has been tracking Pike on his own, strikes up a deal with Lynch: clean records for himself and his team, in return for the plates. Lynch agrees, and Hannibal escapes prison with the help of a drug-soaked cigar that makes him appear dead. Hannibal then breaks out Face (pretending to be a removal man and stealing the tanning bed Face is in), B.A. (by ripping off the door of the prison bus transporting him) and Murdock (through distracting the German V.A. hospital in which he's committed with a 3D movie). By now, Sosa, who holds a grudge against the team for disregarding her warnings to stay away from Baghdad and getting her demoted to Lieutenant, is hot on the team's trail, and under the belief that the team is working with Pike, she tries to head them off before they leave Germany in a military Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft. The plane is destroyed by two remote-piloted drone fighters, but the team manages to escape inside the body of a tank on parachutes, which they "fly" by shooting rounds off and stalling their momentum.

They track Pike, in the company of the mystery Arab, and launch an offensive in which they manage to reclaim the plates and kidnap the Arab at the same time. With the exception of Hannibal, the team is shocked to learn that the "Arab" is actually General Morrison, who worked with Lynch and Pike to steal the plates, but then teamed up with Pike to double-cross Lynch and fake his own death. When Lynch learns that the team has Morrison in their possession, he orders an air strike to eliminate them all in one fell swoop. The team barely manages to escape, and Morrison is killed.

Realizing that their backs are to a wall, Face hatches a plan. Hannibal arranges to meet Sosa (knowing her phone lines are tapped by Lynch) on board a cargo ship at a downtown dock, saying he'll hand over Morrison and the plates in exchange for his freedom. Face then calls her on a second, untapped phone he had previously given her. Lynch reenlists Pike, and sets up a trap for Hannibal and company at the docks. This has been anticipated by Face, who sets off an elaborate series of diversions to split Lynch's team up, and more importantly, get Lynch directly involved. The plan nearly goes awry when Pike fires a rocket at the ship, nearly destroying it, but he's eventually killed by B.A. Lynch tracks down Hannibal and a hooded "Morrison", and shoots "Morrison" in the head before engaging Hannibal in a vicious fistfight. Hannibal soon gets the upper hand until Lynch grabs a hold of his gun, however the container they are in is lifted- revealing Sosa and dozens of Federal agents with guns drawn. "Morrison" is revealed to be Murdock in a melted-Kevlar helmet. Lynch is taken into custody by the CIA, but contrary to what they were expecting, the A-Team is once again arrested by the military, this time for escaping incarceration. Sosa promises to do all she can to set them free, before kissing Face goodbye as he is led into a prison van. In the van, the team laments their misfortune, but Hannibal seems optimistic, and defers to Face, who reveals a key in his mouth presumably obtained from Sosa's kiss. Face then utters Hannibal's catch-phrase: "I love it when a plan comes together".

The film ends with a recital of the opening narration from the original television series.

Review: by NIX, Beyond Hollywood

Like the ‘80s action-adventure show that it’s based on, “Narc” director Joe Carnahan’s 2010 big-screen adaptation of “The A-Team” is big-time fun for those who realize that a movie based on a ‘80s action-adventure show should not be taken too seriously. And so, when Hannibal’s outrageously complicated plans go down like clockwork, and the bad guys can’t hit the broad side of a barn unless the plot needs them to, you just smile and go with it, because to do otherwise would be to spend the film’s nearly two hours bitching and moaning about how that was impossible, no, that was even more impossible than the last, etc. And really, why punish yourself when it’s so unnecessary?

As with the TV show, “The A-Team” chronicles the exploits of four highly trained Army Rangers, specialists in getting things done in the most ridiculous way possible. (As a character declares, these guys “specialize in the ridiculous.” Oh, truer words…) When they are framed for a crime they did not commit, the men must go on the run to clear their names. But wait! That’s about 40 minutes into our tale. When we first meet them, they have not become the A-team yet. In the beginning, there was only mastermind Hannibal (Liam Neeson), on an operation with his trusted sidekick Faceman (Bradley Cooper) in Mexico. There, they meet the Mohawk-sporting B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), a fellow Ranger doing, well, criminal things in Mexico. It’s never really clear what he’s doing that has him fleeing from Mexican cops. Before the First Act is over, the trio crosses paths with the appropriately named Howling Mad Murdock (Sharlto Copley). And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast-forward eight years later, and the gang are doing their thing in Iraq, and have been for the last eight years of the war. They’ve become close now, or as close as the script by Carnahan, Brian Blooms, and Skip Woods manages to get across. (Word is, there were at least a dozen or so screenwriters working on the script over the years. Yikes.) Things start to go wrong for our badasses when shady CIA dude Lynch (Patrick Wilson) recruits them for a mission that everyone, including Army Intelligence Captain Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel, whose character also happens to be Faceman’s former squeeze, natch) tells them to stay away. But our boys are feeling their oats, and they accomplish the mission in style – only to find themselves framed for the murder of a trusted General (Gerald McRaney) and the theft of some fancy schmancy money prints or such. You know, the McGuffin. Suffice to say, the boys go on the run to clear their names, and much shit is blown up along the way.

If you’re a fan of the ‘80s action-adventure show, then the movie version should more than meet your expectations. It’s appropriately outrageous in every way, stuff blows up quite often and loudly, and all the iconic images and phrases from the show sneak appearances here and there. (At one point Hannibal even whips out a Ruger Mini-14, the TV show’s trademark assault rifle.) Director Joe Carnahan obviously had no intention of shitting all over the show, and it shows, from the casting (Neeson and Copley, in particular, are dead ringers for their TV counterparts) to all the little hints and winks that he manages to throw in. Unfortunately, B.A.’s van gets a criminally short appearance before it is pancaked, and although news had original castmembers Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz (the original Faceman and Murdock) making appearances, I honestly didn’t glimpse them in the movie. Too bad Carnahan couldn’t have given them bigger roles instead of blink-and-you’ll-miss cameos. Don’t they deserve that much, if not more?

The action comes pretty fast and furious, and the film itself is separated into a seemingly endless string of action set pieces, opening in Mexico and finishing up in a Los Angeles dock. I can safely say that you will never be bored by the film. Plus, there are plenty of excuses to pay attention aside from the action. Jessica Biel is excellent as the persistent Army babe chasing our heroes, and “Watchmen’s” Patrick Wilson seems to be channeling a less evil (though admittedly still pretty evil) version of Jason Patric’s “Max” character from “The Losers”. Wilson has a ball, as does co-star/co-writer Brian Bloom, playing a spirited mercenary named Pike. And hey, if amusing supporting characters (and a smoking hot Jessica Biel) doesn’t keep you awake, you can always chuckle at UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson trying his darnedest to act. Let’s just say there’s a reason the guy started his career beating people up and not in community theater.

Like “The Losers”, a film that owes more than a little inspiration to “The A-Team”, Joe Carnahan’s film rocks the joint if you allow it to. Oh sure, it’s all very absurd and impossible and devoid of any real-world logic, and for some reason the script decides it would like Hannibal to start handling over the reins to Faceman (Really, guys? Already? The first movie? Couldn’t we get one whole movie where Hannibal is Top Dog before he starts passing the torch?), but if you stick with it, and you accept it at face value, “The A-Team” might just be the most fun you’ll have at the theaters this year. Or at the very least, you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth, which in my book is the same thing.

Added: According to Internet reports, there is a bonus for those who can sit through the 10-15 minutes of end credits. Alas, I did not know this at the time.


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