The A-Team: The Potato loves it when a film comes together!

1983. A legendary network television show was born. It featured action, adventure, comedy, brotherhood and, of course, Mr. T. Creators Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo found a way to combine the popular detective procedural drama with a boys-with-Tonka-trucks sense of precocious male abandon.  It was a huge hit, and ran for 5 seasons until it was canceled in 1987. After 23 years of the franchise lying dormant, the world will be reintroduced to: The A-Team.

::Cue burst of machine gun fire::

That’s right everybody, Hannibal Smith, Faceman Peck, B.A. Baracus, and Howlin’ Mad Murdock are back, and they’ve finally brought their particular brand of military justice to the big screen.  At the helm of this camouflaged runaway freight train is a particular brand of director, and his name is Joe “Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane” Carnahan.  A perfect marriage if I’ve ever seen one.  Of course, as with all resurrected franchises, we have to reintroduce it to the younger folks who only know The A-Team as some show that Dad can’t shut up about, and so the film version is an origin story of sorts: the team forms, the team is shown in action, they get framed and arrested, they break out, and then they begin their quest to clear their names.  It couldn’t be the exact same story, because it was so much of its time and politics that it would ring false today.  Instead of being made up of Vietnam vets, they’re Gulf War vets, and so their circumstances behind their framing, arrest, and escape have all been tweaked to serve this contemporary update.  The major plot points and characters, however, remain the same.  The result is a cigar-chomping, testosterone-dripping comic action opera that satisfies the inner child’s need for danger and adventure, with as many one-liners fired as bullets.

For a TV show that contained such memorable characters that all had an unlikely chemistry (the very chemistry that made the show what it was), their big screen counterparts did not disappoint.  The two versions of the cast are proportionate to the action universes they inhabit.  The TV show features military heroes. The film is a big-budget, explosive, 80’s-informed blockbuster (in the best way), requiring the cast to do more heavy lifting.  They have to be more than military heroes; they have to be action heroes. Of course, comparisons are inevitable, and they may also be warranted.  How could anyone replace Dwight Schultz?  How could anyone truly replace Mr. T.? Mr. T. built his entire legacy around the B.A. Baracus character.  He is B.A. Baracus.  Even in an updated film, the best that any actor can do is imitate him and for an imitation, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson did a good job.  He could definitely handle the action, he pitied fools constantly, and he could keep up with his lively costars.  The script gave also his Baracus an emotional depth that could be expressed with fewer words and more actions.  Though the updated Baracus is not as cuddly, he comes from a similar place.

Much like George Peppard before him, Liam Neeson plays Hannibal Smith as a tough-as-nails Army colonel, with a big heart and mischievous look in his eyes.  Anyone who has seen the action opus Taken knows that Liam Neeson can growl painfully and dispatch movie baddies with convincing aplomb.  In this film, Hannibal Smith is still the man with the best laid plans, and he still never hesitates to get in the fight.  The most perfect casting comes in the form of Bradley Cooper as Faceman Peck.  Cooper matches Dirk Benedict’s old school urban swashbuckling charm perfectly and is the glue that holds all the other performances together. Faceman is the most complicated because he is both the finesse and the fire, and while Dirk Benedict is responsible for creating him, Bradley Cooper is keeping Faceman alive and well.  The big surprise is District 9’s Sharlto Copley who is able to effortlessly capture the constant mania that Dwight Schultz brought to the Howlin’ Mad Murdock character.

After his performance in last year’s District 9, which was largely improvisational with little written dialog to work from, Copley was tested with the A-Team’s more traditional script and had to show that he could sustain an already existing character. Any skeptics should worry not, for Copley’s performance is the heart and soul of The A-Team’s dynamic.

As far as supporting casts go, this one is game.  As Captain Sosa (and Faceman’s former flame), Jessica Biel does a lot with a thankless role, holding the line between love interest and woman-of-action.  Gerald McRaney (Major Dad?) starts out playing General Morrison as the General from Predator, but his character gets more complicated as the plot thickens.  Extra kudos goes to Lakeview Terrace’s Patrick Wilson as CIA Agent Lynch, a wormy, sociopathic G-Man so duplicitous that you love him as much as you hate him.

Making an impact with his first feature Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, and making a smaller yet deeper impact with Narc, Joe Carnahan should have made his action smashup debut with 2006’s  Smokin’ Aces, but it was a misstep. The cinematography and offbeat dialogue suggested that Carnahan would be a director who could handle large action while maintaining a uniquely graphic vision, but Aces fails because the story falls apart in the third act, and also does not deliver the action that it was building towards.  In The A-Team, I must say, I love it when a Joe Carnahan movie comes together.  His cinematic vision for the franchise is a combination of Tony Scott and True Lies-era James Cameron.  It is an immensely entertaining homage to old-school Hollywood spectacle. The script, co-written by Joe Carnahan, Skip Woods, and Brian Bloom (who also plays rogue mercenary Mr. Pike) is a breezy, expertly strung together tapestry of one-liners with a clever plot and a few interesting twists along the way. The action sequences are fierce, fun, and impossible, culminating with an unbelievably destructive scene at the Long Beach harbor.  Amidst the chaos, Carnahan keeps the film moving in its quieter moments, and though there aren’t many, they’re very well placed. In The A-Team, Carnahan is tasked with aiming a shotgun at a target, and instead pulls out a rocket launcher and fraggs the entire mountain. Hoo-yah.

If you’re an A-Team fan, if you’re an action fan, a Liam Neeson fan, or pretty much a fan of all things loud, fun, and awesome, then maybe you can hire…The A-Team! I give it an enthusiastic 4 out of 4 stars/bullets.

Twice Baked Potatoes: Sure Things For Summer

The Twice Baked Potatoes series is back with a vengeance, and this time it’s all about saving our summers.  If you’ve seen The Hangover 10 times already, Public Enemies has left you with summer blues, or if you’ve seen Transformers 2 and the IMAX ticket prices have plucked your pockets to their linty bottoms, stay home and fire up these five classic crowd-pleasers:

5) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

billandted

"Bill, check it out! We're in the middle of a war, dude!"

Keanu Reeves sans the matrixey philosophical mumbo jumbo, various historical periods getting a gnarly awesome 80’s treatment, and one of the hottest moms in movies, time has been very good to this 1988 comedy. I showed this movie to my little sister (born in 1991) a few years ago, and it became one of her favorite movies.  It’s goofy, it’s a romp, and its vibe is totally infectious. Napoleon eating/hogging a giant ice-cream sundae and getting a prize for it?  I’m there, dude.

4) Re-Animator

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

"I didn't kill him. I gave him life!!"

If you’re looking for some horror that’s heavy on both cheese and gore, look no further.  It’s the horror film that all the buffs talk about, but don’t let them scare you away, because this film is on the level.  My lady showed me this one a few months ago, and I couldn’t stop laughing/cringing.  The movie is self-aware yet feels completely authentic.  It plays like a 50’s matinee fixture with 80’s sprinkled on top.  When the corpses are reanimated and they go into their cyclone of mad zombie rage, it feels like Christmas.

3) Encino Man

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

"Poor stoneager, he spends a million years chilling in a block of ice, and now he's gonna go to high school?"

It’s the 90’s time capsule that made stars out of Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore.  A caveman that gets frozen for a few million years, geeks thaw him out and teach him to be cool so that he can make them cool.  If you’re not on board already, move on to number 2, because it only gets weirder.  Parents, if you’re kid is currently in junior high, please pass this one on to them.  Pauly Shore teaching Brendan Fraser about the four basic food groups at 7-Eleven = priceless.

2) Almost Famous

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet.  Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

"Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon, masquerading as a poet. Man, give me 'The Guess Who', because they have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which make them poetic!"

Music makes everything feel better, and Cameron Crowe’s love letter to 70’s classic rock, rock journalism, and teenage self-discovery makes for a great way to fill two hours.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might sing along (or hum, if you don’t know the words.  I’m horrible at learning lyrics, personally.  Movie quotes stick to me like velcro, go figure).  Billy Crudup keeps the movie grounded, Kate Hudson is the spitting image of her moviestar mom, and Jason Lee turns out his best performance.  Look out for Philip Seymour Hoffman as legendary rock scholar Lester Bangs.  He only gets a few minutes of screen time, but that’s all he needs.

1) Back To The Future

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about?  I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

"I, Dr. Emmett Brown, am about to embark on an historic journey...wait, what am I thinking about? I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium!"

The best time travel movie of all time.  I am forsaking many great films to make that statement, but I can’t deny this film’s super-classic status.  If you’re like me, you’ve seen this film more than a few times over the years.  It’s charm will keep you smiling from beginning to end all over again, and its Freudian elements give the film enough quirk to sustain the neurons as well.  The film’s cinematography, musical score, screenplay, and performances are all top notch.  But like the film does with its own science, you can just ignore all that technical nonsense and enjoy the ride.  One of the best soundtracks ever, by the way.