The Review: I grew up in the Eighties, mainly on a diet of cheesy American TV series. They were two a penny for a while, and I watched them all: Manimal, Street Hawk, Automan and Airwolf, most of them with cheerfully interchangeable plots and a tenuous grip on reality, ideal for a ten year old looking for excitement. The one I replayed most myself was my out and out favourite, Knight Rider (the other one of the pitch above, in case you missed the Eighties for any reas0n); the one played out most on the playgrounds with my friends and I, and probably on most other playgrounds, was The A Team, with every kid fighting over which one they wanted to be. I often got to be Face, partly as he was my favourite at the time (Dirk Benedict was also in Battlestar Galactica, making him extra cool, and they then referred to this in the opening titles! How exciting!), and partly because my friends and I had a well developed sense of irony at an early age, so making Face the ugly one was a no-brainer.
What I was really hoping for was that this modern reboot of the franchise would capture, above all, that sense of playground fun that made you want to be these guys, running around shooting but never fatally wounding. Crucial to that would be the casting of the central foursome and their ability to inhabit the same characters, and this is only a partial success. The most successful is Sharlto Copley, who has huge amounts of fun with Murdock, throwing in random accents and never standing still. Bradley Cooper is a pretty, and pretty reasonable, Face, pulling off the swagger but never quite having the smooth charm of the original. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson is easy enough to watch, but doesn’t have the gruff charisma of Mr T. Most disappointing is Liam Neeson, who never manages the American accent that well and doesn’t have the cocky authority of George Peppard.
However, the group as a whole do have fun, and come across as a unit you’d like to spend time with. The movie’s at its winning best when the four are planning their latest crazy stunt and the interplay is firing; there’s maybe not quite enough of this and maybe a little too much introspection at times, especially in B.A.’s ill advised non-violence sub-plot. The original series was a pure pleasure on its own terms, and at times almost slide-rule linear in terms of its plotting; every good episode consisted of the “team enter a situation, team get in trouble, team use unconventional means to win the day” through-line, and you were never required to engage the brain cells. The movie tries to be a little more involved, but only a little – any twists are all well telegraphed, so you get the same effect as the original, but it doesn’t feel quite as well constructed.
What stops this from being a great film, rather than a just above average one, are the action sequences. The concepts are by and large good, it’s the execution, and Joe Carnahan’s direction, that renders them often unclear and just as often unenjoyable. Apart from the team camaraderie, this should have been the core of the movie, and that’s where the biggest let down comes – if it was an attempt to disguise the shoddy CGI, then it was a mistake and the action shouldn’t have been sacrificed as a result. I love it when a plan comes together, but this one sadly never quite does. If someone’s willing to stump up for a sequel, though, then there’s enough here to think that Plan B might be the one.
Why see it at the cinema: The unclear action sequences do fill the whole frame, so seeing them on the big screen does at least give you the best possible chance of working out what’s going on. There are also just about enough laughs to want to share them.
The Score: 6/10