You know that bit in Crocodile Dundee II when Mick is doing his Australian meditating in his flat and a bloke knocks on his door, fires a shotgun through it and is then promptly punched in the face through the door by Mr Dundee?
Right, well you know when the guy wakes up from his fist-begot unconsciousness, he’s dangling over a balcony by his feet and Mick Dundee is threatening to cut the rope? Imagine, if you will, that your disbelief is this unfortunate mobster, suspended over the void, while the sweat-slick Mick Dundee represents the new movie adaptation of 80s action tosh The A-Team, and his Bowie knife is its plot. In short, The A-Team’s pant-on-head mad story threatens to shatter illusion and immersion to the point where you fear for your own sanity.
While I await my award for the most convoluted movie analogy of 2010, let’s look at why The A-Team is the idiot savant of the modern action movie.
The film opens with Hannibal (Liam Neeson) getting worked over by some Mexican thugs, who eventually decide that since they cannot find a working pistol with which to execute him, they will instead kill him with a pair Rottweilers. They wander off laughing gleefully after releasing the dogs, assuming that their victim’s death is assured rather than guessing that he’ll actually escape from his chair, move into the shadows and handcuff the slavering hounds together in a move that apparently embarrasses them into humility, thus saving his life.
This is the first in a long chain of near-death experiences for the members of The A-Team, and they get more ridiculous as the film progresses, with its overwhelming number of villainous figures failing to pull the trigger on their temporarily helpless targets until they’ve talked just long enough for a rescue to be mounted. Although hardly the most preposterous aspect of this film, and frequently used throughout the history of Hollywood, these extended pre-execution gloating sessions are overused and simply frustrating by the time the final credits roll.
The first ten minutes of the film outlines how the team met and formed, and then the action jumps on eight years to the closing days of the Iraq war. We’re shown Hannibal briefly joking with some Iraqi troops, telling one of them to keep wearing his helmet it what seems to be a subtly callous allusion to the fact that although the Americans are leaving, the country is hardly stable or safe. But I digress. The team is asked to perform one last mission in Baghdad before they leave, but they are framed by some chaps from Black Ops and the CIA, resulting in their imprisonment. Of course they break out and attempt to clear their names. Violence ensues.
Perhaps the most important point made in The A-Team is that Gandhi was fallible and, if you interpret his wider teachings in a particular way, his name can actually be used to condone excessive physical violence. No foolin’. You see, the filmmakers hypothesise that you can justify virtually any action with quotes from revered figures and, by association, religious scriptures, provided you are possessing of a selective and reductive mindset.
There is no grey area in the action movie, and The A-Team takes the conundrum of righteous violence, or the unquestioned righteousness of arms-bearing Americans, to new levels of amoral inappropriateness. The central foursome are only identified as the ‘goodies’ because they have a warehouse of one-liners and enough compassion to make sure that they people they kill are really, really dead, and not just maimed. Explosions act as a pretty potent final punctuation mark to anyone’s existence.*
I suppose The A-Team is funny, if you think the idea of a man testing a helicopter’s rotor blades by hanging from them and singing Dead or Alive’s 80s hit ‘You Spin Me Round’ is rib-tickling at its best. It’s funny in the way that kids film Madagascar is funny, i.e. not very. I also suppose that the action sequences are quite well done, but the point I’ve been driving towards is that 1) You won’t believe that any of it is possible, even through the broadly exaggerated lens of Hollywood, and 2) You won’t really be rooting for the protagonists because they’re a bit too cocky and half-baked as characters.
If you can turn off your higher brain function, you’ll enjoy The A-Team with the most lizardy part of your psyche.
Something else I want to mention here is the future implications of the current crop of remakes. There’s been much discussion of how the contemporary Hollywood bigwigs clearly grew up in the 80s, and as such are pumping out adaptations of shows and movies that were popular in their youth: G.I. Joe, Karate Kid etc etc. I’m now wondering what the catalogue of the 90s and 00s will look like when it’s plundered in five, ten, twenty years’ time. I don’t think I’ll want to see any of it. You?
*My tongue’s in my cheek, but it’s frowning.