The biggest mistake in making a testosterone-fueled action fantasy is to have it take itself too seriously. THE A-TEAM doesnt fall into that trap. Instead, it takes everything that was fun about the series on which it was based and amps it up into stratospherically ridiculous heights. And it does so with an irresistible insouciance and absolutely no apologies. Hence an airborne tank dangling from parachutes doing battle with sophisticated military jets. Completely ridiculous and completely cool.
After a brief origins sequence in which B.A. Barakus (Quinton Rampage Jackson), the Airborne Army Ranger and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) the brilliant but functionally lunatic pilot join up with fellow Rangers Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) and Faceman Face Peck (Bradley Cooper), the team is off to save the country from a flood of counterfeit $100s. Of course they were officially told not to try to get them out of Baghdad. Of course they were unofficially encouraged to do so by someone who is later unavailable for confirmation. Of course they are betrayed by a bevy of unscrupulous government agents, including Patrick Wilson and co-writer Brian Bloom, who want the glory and maybe more for themselves, and of course they will go rogue to clear their names and save the country, too.
Its not about the plot line per se, its about the fiendishly clever plans concocted by Hannibal to outwit anyone foolish enough to go against him and his team. Director and co-writer Joe Carnahan is smart enough to keep those plots coming thick and fast, and to unfold them to the audience with a few surprises despite that same audience being privy to the plotting and assigning of tasks. Hes also savvy enough to know that its the personalities that keep this sort of thing afloat, along with the delicious juxtaposition of slick direction and gritty writing. He tosses in an army captain of a female lead (Jessica Biel) who is just as tough as the guys, just not quite as crazy. The which she proved by breaking up with Face, a bad ending involving Steely Dan and sub-par cabernet. Shes also made it her mission to bring the guys in and shes perfectly capable of doing just that. Mostly. Its that lack of the crazy thing. As she puts it, the A-Team specializes in the ridiculous and that, right there, is why shes no match for them. Nor is anyone else for that matter.
The plans that Hannibal devises, starting with breaking each of them out of separate maximum-security prisons after the court-martial, is a dizzying mix of audacity, imagination, and the immutable laws of physics. The people carrying them out are their own dizzying mix, from Faces ability to turn his prison experience into that of an upscale day spa with hot dates after hours, to Murdocks realization that turning off a helicopter in flight will fool a heat-seeking missile. As for Hannibal, even on his own, he can flummox two killer rottweilers at once, and B.A. can be true to both his inner Gandhi and his outer warrior by finding a neat loophole in the latters philosophy but still struggle with the fear of flying his first brush with Hannibal and company gave him. The actors play it straight without losing the sense of fun that their characters are having. Wilson in particular brings a healthy dose of preening narcissism to the mix, and there is never a millisecond that Copley doesnt make the audience believe that Murdock thinks hes completely sane, even while using napalm while barbecuing. As for Cooper, yeah, he’s the charisma mother lode.
Overkill is underrated according to Hannibal, and that could well be THE A-TEAMs mantra. This is exactly what an over-the-top action flick should be. There is also the added dividend of making the rogue team the unquestioned champions of idealism fighting the dark forces of cynicism in all its most malignant manifestations while never being sappy, never being trite, and always being as howlingly, endearingly lunatic as Murdock at his least functional and most effective.