RECAP: The A-Team

The A-Team (2010): Joe Carnahan

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Framed for a crime they didn’t commit, a quartet of Army Rangers seeks to clear their names by blowing up a lot of stuff and making a lot of folks mad. 

Hero (3/10)

“I love it when a plan comes together.” That’s the mantra of Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith, the oldest member, planner, and leader of the A-Team. Hannibal’s life’s work involves being three steps ahead of the enemy.

Our introduction to the A-Team comes south of the border in Mexico. Hannibal is tortured and nearly murdered with his own gun. Problem is, his gun is missing its firing pin. Where’s the firing pin? Hannibal has it in his hand and uses it to pick the handcuffs affixing him to a chair.

On the run in Mexico, Hannibal needs a ride to save his friend, fellow Army Ranger Templeton “Face” Peck (Bradley Cooper). Luckily there’s another Army Ranger driving through the desert in a black van with red trim. “There are no coincidences,” Hannibal believes. After shooting B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) in the arm, they become instant friends and set out to save Face.

They save him from incineration, but the trio remains in Mexico. B.A. drives them to a hospital, where a doctor patches up B.A.’s bullet wound. This doctor ain’t no doctor, he’s a patient, and he’s Howling Mad (Murdock) (Sharlto Copley). Crazy he might be, but he’s the only guy ready to fly them away from the enraged general and his bought cronies.

The A-Team is assembled, but they are thiiiiiis close to death. Murdock flies a medical helicopter from the chasing military-grade gunship, and this hornet is buzzing mad. The gunship unloads a dozen rockets at Murdock. Next come the heat seekers, and the only way to avoid them is to kill the engines, which he does, restarting them before smashing into the Earth.

As Murdock evades the gunship, Hannibal studies a GPS tracker following their trail. He gets on the horn with corrupt General Tuco in the helicopter behind them, telling him he is engaged in an illegal act of war with US citizens and, just as the helicopters cross into Arizona, engaged in said action above US soil. A drone streaks in and fires two missiles directly at Tuco, killing him over US airspace.

I can’t imagine the diplomatic headaches Hannibal’s actions caused, but all he cares about are results and the culmination of a plan well made.

Hannibal makes a lot of plans throughout The A-Team. The team steals an armored truck, breaks out of four different security facilities, flies a tank, steals US bill engraving plates TWICE, survives a gunship attack, and outwits a CIA agent and his entire team of agents. “Give me six months,” he tells the CIA agent, “and I’m unbeatable.”

And Hannibal’s getting better all the time. “I’m ten times the man I was when you met me,” he says to his superior officer, General Morrison, in an early scene.

Yet, even Hannibal Smith is not invincible. After the actual death of Morrison and the knowledge of his betrayal, Hannibal is at a loss for how to proceed. He calls on his friend Face to plan the end game.

Liam Neeson had big shoes to fill–they all did–in playing George Peppard’s classic role. Luckily (Terrible Joke Alert) Neeson is a tall guy. While a fine actor, Neeson doesn’t have the comedic chops Peppard nailed as Hannibal. While different, a lack of humor might be a good thing, as the other team members are borderline insane.

Villain (4/10)

Tracking the villain in The A-Team is a bit like following the case full of engraving plates. It’s hard to know who’s doing what to whom.

A complex plot leaves us guessing who is worse. Is it CIA Lynch? Is it DOD Sosa? is it Black Forest ham Pike? All of them?

After twists and turns we learn that the worst of the bunch is Lynch, if that is his real name. (It’s not.) Played with adolescent gusto by Patrick Wilson, Lynch first appears in Iraq with knowledge of the engraving plates missing since the Iran/Iraq conflict.

We don’t see him again until he visits Hannibal in prison, where he’s arrived without a record of him on camera. He’s got Bond-tech camera scramblers. Lynch agrees to help clear the A-Team’s records in exchange for helping get the plates from Pike, the Black Forest mercenary (a Halliburton stand-in company) who has them for most of the movie.

Thus Lynch tricks us, making us think of him as a sidekick. He fools Hannibal as well, or rather Hannibal is forced to accept his extra-legal help.

Lynch’s sense of humor and (so he thought) total control of dangerous people endeared him to me, even during those times he was definitely the villain.

Action/Effects (3/10)

Which scene to choose? Few movies are as frenetic as The A-Team. The silliest scene follows breaking Murdock from the German psychiatric hospital. First, the hilarious plan to infiltrate the hospital.

An “Annabel Smith” mails dozens of cheap 3D glasses to a patient at the hospital that is not Murdock (which would certainly tip off someone). Murdock passes out the glasses, and they assemble in the movie room.

The movie sent them is The Greater Escape, and it plays as the DOD agent tracking the team, Sosa (Jessica Biel), enters the room to search for Murdock. Just after the credits roll, a jeep drives toward the screen. As it would hit camera, the A-Team drives an actual humvee through the hospital wall, in what must be the only time I’ve seen anyone literally break the fourth wall.

With Murdock they drive to a tarmac and steal a cargo plane with a tank inside. Murdock breaks the open cockpits of the parked jets as he takes off. Flying through clouds and turbulence, he calms the fliers by telling them that turbulence has never brought down a plane. Those reaper drones tracking them? Brought down plenty of planes.

Murdock fires countermeasure flares to outwit the first missiles fired at them. The next two break through, despite Sosa’s demands to capture the fugitives alive.

The A-Team is too smart to fall for that. They piled in the tank. The tank falls toward Germany with three chutes deployed. Soon that’s one chute, until Face gets out there, cranks up that 50-caliber on the turret, and kills one drone.

Face gets back inside. Hannibal, his eye planted in a scope, calls out degrees. Face obeys. Sosa, on the ground, figures out what they’re doing. B.A. does, too. “You can’t fly a tank!”

You can if you’re the A-Team. Several shots later the tank falls into a lake, landing softly enough that Murdock can drive it out of there and ask a bewildered frau, “Which way to Berlin?”

About as improbable as anything they tried in the TV show, flying a tank was vintage A-Team with a lot more cash.

The other action scenes–there are many–are as unlikely as this one. More than one are conducted as they are being planned, the two scenes intercut, increasing the pace. The movie barely lets you catch your breath more so than even the red-lining Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sidekicks (7/8)

Hannibal is the unquestioned leader. His backups are three.

Face: Named so for being the sexiest man formerly an Army Ranger, Templeton Peck clowns his way through the movie, always in danger and never worried about it.

Face first appears inside a roll of tires, about to be lit on fire by a corrupt Mexican general for sleeping with his wife. Face laughs about it. He knows his buddy Hannibal is on his way to aid his escape, and if you knew the same you’d be fine about it.

Always the unit’s charmer, Face has a lady problem. Sosa and Face used to date, and when she arrives in Baghdad to order the A-Team the hell away from the engraving plate game, Face wants to talk about their relationship. Who left whom and why?

They settle that later. Rest assured, Hannibal might be the leader of the A-Team, but Face is the hero of The A-Team. So why put him here? (Shoulder shrug) Tradition?

We learn much about the characters from their prison locations. Face’s cell is brick-lined, replete with flatscreen and exercise bike, tanning bed privileges, and other prisoners are about knock out a wall for him. There’s Brooklyn yuppies paying $3,000 a month for less.

Lord knows no man on this planet charms like Face. He sleeps with the wife of a murderous general and a guard at his prison, and he makes out with a journalist while pretending to be a French TV personality.

I imagine Bradley Cooper could do all these things; playing Face was not far from his mark. His character shows the most growth. Without Hannibal to plan their final fight against Pike, Lynch, and the rest of the damn world, Face rises to the challenge and plots out a winner.

Turns out that Face was the one ready to get serious with Sosa, and she got scared and left. Even a Face can grow.

B.A.: Few actors from the 1980s, hell, any decade, are as recognizable and memorable as Mr. T. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is tasked with filling those shoes, and yes, he’s a big guy, too, but no one can match Mr. T. (I love that “Rampage” is in surrounded by quote marks, so you won’t mistake that word for his real name.)

Jackson gives it a good effort. The A-Teams (TV show) funniest trope was B.A.’s fear of flying coupled with his teammate: a pilot. Each episode they flew somewhere and B.A. bitched about it.

He bitches in the movie. B.A. complains early and often about flying with Murdock, and who can blame him? Other members have to knock him out to get him on a plane, which works sometimes.

In prison, B.A. gets religion. He reads compassion books and calms his soul. Sapped of the desire to kill people, B.A. has no need for his mohawk, which he wore to symbolize his skill/desire at taking scalps.

Out of prison, B.A. refuses to kill anyone, even Lynch and Pike, who would love to kill B.A. The big bruiser, a man with “pity” and “fool” tattooed on his fists, can’t hurt a fly. Only the words of Gandhi quoted to him by Hannibal convince him to fight at least once more for himself. After the fight ends, B.A. finds his conscience is at peace.

Murdock: The last and craziest of the team, Murdock joins the team in Mexico in body, if perhaps not in mind. We are never clear about Murdock’s sanity–nor are his friends–but he is.

Murdock is crazy enough to laugh in the face of grave danger, and crazy enough to wear a kevlar helmet that he knows will be shot. He’s a guy who uses antifreeze as his barbecue secret sauce and plays doctor for fun. He’s a guy actively seeking his next near-death experience. Murdock is so crazy that electroshock therapy has no effect on him.

Despite insanity, Murdock’s reliable. He flies two different helicopters and two different planes, all with equal effectiveness and calm manner. And he speaks Swahili for some reason.

Henchmen (3/8)

Lots of folks oppose the A-Team: Agent Lynch, Pike, General Tuco, General Morrison, Agent Sosa, and probably more.

Pike is the most dangerous and most opposed to the A-Team. A member of Halliburton stand-in Black Forest, Pike will make more in a month than Hannibal makes in a year. Doesn’t buy him brains does it?

Pike will be remembered most for having the largest eyebrows this side of Eugene Levy. He’s the type of guy that doesn’t sweat sitting in a German jail cell across from a DOD employee. He’s the type of guy to throw his teammates under the bus. “Loyalty doesn’t fit in the overhead bin,” he says. Pretty sure that guy was married.

Pike and Lynch have a funny exchange in an SUV transporting them from the Frankfurt jail. Lynch thinks he’s busting Pike for trying to double cross him, until Pike extricates himself from handcuffs. Oops.

Like villains in the TV show, Pike can’t shoot anything. B.A. rappels down a building in Frankfurt. Pike shoots at him, hitting the windows on either side of B.A., despite the latter’s falling in a straight line at a regular speed. Pike has an epiphany to shoot the rope holding B.A. He aims at the window washing box holding the rappelling rope and fires, striking a pulley on the first shot. Hit a 250-pound beefcake? Try, try again. Hit a softball-sized pulley? One shot, one kill.

Pike oozes confidence, but with those eyebrows I have to think it’s mostly bluster.

Stunts (5/6)

During their final days in Iraq, Hannibal cooks up a heist plan for the A-Team. A truck full of American greenbacks and the engraving plates used to print the cash will drive through Baghdad, guarded by Iraqi special forces, “Shoot to kill types.”

As Hannibal narrates the plan over a table littered with, well, litter that helps his teammates visualize the plan, the members of the A-Team carry out the plan in shots inter-spliced with the plan’s narration.

Face crawls through tunnels until he’s poking out a manhole cover into the street. As the convoy rolls over him, he activates the powerful magnet he stole to attach to the underside of a moving vehicle. Dangerous Move #1. From beneath the truck Face throws spikes to burst the tires of a trailing humvee.

B.A. leaps into the scene on a beloved motorcycle. Hannibal instructs him to fill the gas tank to the brim and crash it into the next humvee. BOOM. Dangerous Move #2. Hannibal zip lines onto the truck as B.A. gasses the cab and extracts the driver. Dangerous Moves #3 and #4. Hannibal’s plan was so good that he knew where to erect a zip line.

B.A. drives the truck into a tunnel as Face and Hannibal hang from the side nailing airbags to the truck. Where do you get giant airbags on an Army base? Hannibal knows. Face fires at the last guard truck trailing them and then nails himself to the truck. More Dangerous Moves.

The tunnel ends and the truck crashes into water, perhaps the largest amount of money ever cast into the Tigris. B.A. exits the cab as it detaches from the container and the air bags inflate. Murdock swoops down in an Osprey to gun down the enemy truck. Cables descend, are attached to the container, and the whole thing ascends with B.A. mad inside. He plans to “kill all y’all.”

Plenty of crazy stunts in The A-Team. Without doubt the best stunts occur in the air. The stunt fliers performed barrel rolls in a helicopter and a cargo plane, or at least appeared to.

For all the action and running around, The A-Team provides few fights. B.A. can kill a man with a punch, so his fights never last long. In the beginning he kicks a man into a plate glass window, sending cracks snaking throughout the glass.

Climax (3/6)

Hannibal steps from a container in full view of Lynch and his enormous team. He’s got snipers, scopes, Pike, footmen, tons of people ready to get those plates back. Hannibal speaks with Sosa on the phone, and she appears to burn him. Lynch hears all this, of course, and buys it.

Hannibal pretends to bring Morrison (who is actually dead, keep in mind) from another container and holds the plates. Lynch orders him shot, but not before Face drops a protective container on them. Now he tries the ball-in-cup guessing game that’s a lot easier with cups.

Face drops the three identical containers onto the docks. From two others burst remote-drivable BMWs, which I didn’t know existed. The SUVs drive around as Lynch sends in a bunch of guys. Pike sees through this game; Lynch doesn’t. B.A. shoots fireworks to ignite a huge fire that probably kills a lot of Company spooks, but they didn’t have names so who cares.

Pike draws out a bazooka and blasts a hole in the side of the ship. B.A. zips off the boat and dodges falling containers as Face climbs a crane. The camera gives us wide-angled views of this destruction.

After much zipping and running and falling, Face and B.A. are safe on the ground amongst dozens of containers strewn about like pick-up sticks. Pike chases them with a machine gun.

Pike corners Face and tells him to “wait for the flash.” B.A. flies in on a bike, tackles Pike as the bike explodes, blocks a knife slash, lifts Pike, and smashes him on his head. Violence is OK!

Lynch, amongst the containers now, hears his name whispered until he finds Hannibal in a container with Fake Morrison. Lynch’s muy thai is pretty good. Ju Jitsu’s better. Don’t let the scarf he wears fool you.

Lynch hears the pleas of Morrison and caps his head. Opening the case, he says “Ben, where’ve you been all my life?” Hannibal struggles to his feet, then he beats back Lynch and talks crap about the latter’s fighting skills. It’s hard to see in the lighting there, but Hannibal gives Lynch a gun.

Cut back to Face explaining his plan again: distraction, diversion, division. The container rises, somehow, to find Sosa and her team surrounding Lynch, who has the plates in one hand and a gun in the other, and calling him Agent Burress.

Remember, the A-Team is on the run from the law, accused for crimes it didn’t commit. It should be no surprise when they are arrested again. Sosa, happy to have helped, will miss Face when he’s in prison. Miss him so much she kisses him.

Sitting in the rolling cage, the team chides Face. Face, afraid to steal Hannibal’s line, reveals the handcuff key kissed into his mouth by Sosa. I love it when a plan comes together.

Jokes (4/4)

The A-Team was one of TV’s funniest shows, ostensibly a drama. It starred Mr. T and a character called “Howling Mad”. Of course it was funny.

The movie maintains that comedic level. The best joke by far is this one, courtesy of Lynch. He wants to tap the phones of Sosa and her crew. A Lynch underling asks him: you know she’s DOD, right? As in Department of Defense. Lynch answers, “I don’t care if she’s g-o-d.” That’s platinum.

Jackson replicates B.A.’s comedy as best he can, in the way that a copy of a paper is never as high-quality as the original. I don’t mean to knock Jackson, only to laud Mr. T.

Howling Mad Murdock adds his spicy sauce to the proceedings. His spicy sauce is literally antifreeze, which he dashes on grilled steaks. That his buddies know this makes them about as crazy as Murdock. Later, the pilot reenacts scenes from Braveheart after finding blue paint.

The only liability here is Liam Neeson. As in the Taken series, Neeson forgot that he was in a silly movie. He plays Hannibal with the gravitas George C. Scott used to win an Oscar as Patton. Dial it back a bit, Liam.

Setting (0/4)

The A-Team floats around the world, never grounding itself. The four men flit about the globe with varying levels of aid from the actual US government. They visit Frankfurt, but that could have been any tall city in the Western world (it was actually Vancouver).

Desert scenes are always memorable, because they add a deadly setting to whatever deadly situations characters concoct for themselves. The A-Team opens in the desert and revisits it again as “Iraq”, and I wish they had stayed there. A cigar smoker, a cage fighter, an insane person, and a tail hound all seem out of place in the desert. Next time, keep ’em there.

Commentary (1/2)

Plot summary: Four rag-tag fighters with little in common kill the general of an ally (to be fair, he was a corrupt general), steal engraving plates belonging to the US government (which sounds good, except they weren’t allowed in Baghdad at the time), break out of four security facilities, steal an Army plane, dodge arrest from a Defense Department official, nearly kill a government contract worker (to be fair, he was a corrupt contractor), and set up a CIA agent (to be fair, he was a corrupt agent).

Yet, it’s the A-Team accused of crimes and sent to prison, again, at the movie’s end. The A-Team paints the US government equally corrupt and inept. Made me laugh, but I think it was an accident. One point only.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Passing on this one.

Others

  • Having all the CIA guys named Lynch was a subtle touch in a loud movie. One of Lynch’s people holds his umbrella.

Summary (33/68): 49%

The A-Team packs tons of action into two hours. Too much action. The complex plot kept me guessing, mostly in a good way, but did not allow me time to think between tracking the action scenes and the dialogue in them.

The A-Team is not a bad movie, it’s trying too hard.