DIRECTED BY: Joe Carnahan
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Jessica Biel
Bored on a train journey from Dublin to Thurles once, my friend and I started playing a game of Guess The TV Theme Tune. We went through all the old standards – Mission Impossible, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Hawaii Five-O and the undisputed king of sophisticated drama, Glenroe.
But we got stuck on The A-Team. It had been my favourite show in the ’80s (before Cheers came along – now that was a theme tune), but for the life of me I couldn’t remember how the tune went and neither could my companion. We racked our brains all the way from Kildare to Ballybrophy and then in a burst of inspiration I thought I had it.
“Da da da DA DAAAA!” I sang triumphantly.
My friend nodded and tried it for size. “Da da da DA DAAAA! Yeah, yeah. That sounds like it!”
But then a young lady across the aisle, who’d been listening in unknown to us, leaned over and said: “No, that’s CHiPS. The A-Team is DAA da da DAAAA! Da da daaa!” And she sat back in her seat with a victorious smile.
My friend and I laughed for a few minutes, then a thought struck me and I turned to ask her, “Why didn’t you bloody tell us that an hour ago!” But she was gone, probably to the restaurant carriage for her winner’s cup of tea.
That’s about 20 years ago now and The A-Team had long been in permanent hiding at that stage. So the movie has been a while coming, considering Hollywood’s fondness for cashing in on recycled ideas. And while no-one in their right mind would call it a classic, the film is wonderfully faithful to the spirit of its small screen ancestor – shallow, dumb, cheesy, ridiculously over the top, but fine entertainment.
Which is a pleasant surprise – though not as surprising as the fact that the man at the wheel is Joe Carnahan, a director better known for material of a darker hue, like the excellent Narc. But he’s clearly having a lot of fun pulling this big silly plan together.
We first meet the gang in Mexico, where Hannibal (Neeson) escapes death by the skin of some vicious canine teeth, then hooks up with BA Baracus (Jackson) to rescue Face (Cooper), who’s about to get a roasting for fooling around with a mad general’s wife. After giving the villains a spectacular hiding, the boys break Howling Mad Murdock (Copley) out of the mental wing to fly them off into the sunset in a hospital chopper.
Eight years and many scrapes later, the boys are an elite combat unit serving in Iraq, the go-to team for the big jobs. Their latest mission is to hunt down some enterprising insurgents and relieve them of a billion dollars in counterfeit cash and return the treasury plates the mad mullahs used to make the dough. But the plan hits a bit of a snag when the lads are framed and find themselves out of the military on their ear and sent to prison for the legendary “crime they didn’t commit”.
But then, no jail – or secure hospital unit – can hold The A-Team for long and with a bit of the old MacGyver magic, Hannibal soon has the crew back on the road and looking to knock a few heads.
The cast do a decent job of filling the shoes of these memorable characters. Neeson is fine as straight man Hannibal, Copley is suitably mad as Murdock and Cooper takes all the best lines as the cocky charmer Face. The weak link is Jackson as BA and not just because he looks like a plastic Mr T. As a professional mixed martial artist with the UFC, Rampage has a ferocious personality all of his own and he gets plenty chance to use it but just doesn’t seem to be bothered. Either that or he doesn’t want to be seen to upstage a bona fide icon.
For the sake of window dressing, Jessica Biel is also in the mix as a Defense Department suit who happens to be one of Face’s many exes. Which is one silly distraction too far – in much the same way the old TV show always dragged when that girl was around. By all accounts, the late George Peppard – old Hannibal himself – couldn’t stand her. He wasn’t alone.
In any case, it is the frantic, audacious action that is Carnahan’s chief concern here and he pulls off plenty of extravagant set pieces – none more memorable than the flying tank, which is brilliant, mad and absolutely laughable all at the same time.
Like the film itself, really. It won’t be to everyone’s liking but for this old fan it was great fun.
Better still, I hear CHiPS: The Movie is in development. And about time they got Ponch out of mothballs too.