Underseen Movie: ‘The A-Team’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

The movie version of the 1980s television show “The A-Team” is one of those examples of how, as U2 put it in their song “Numb,” too much is not enough. The plot is razor thin, and the stunts defy all things we see as logically possible. And you know what? I didn’t care because I HAD SUCH A BLAST WATCHING IT!!! Many reviewers have been bemoaning how it was not what it could have been. I, on the other hand, prefer to see it for what it is, a highly entertaining film and the kind we usually expect to watch during the summer season.

After a prologue that shows how this team of Army rangers came together, we get thrust right into the action as we catch up with Hannibal, Faceman, B.A. Baracus, and the consistently insane Murdock as they are about to wrap up their tour of duty in Iraq. But before they can leave, they are given another mission to retrieve U.S. treasury plates that insurgents intend on using to make counterfeit money; the same kind of plates we would love to have in our possession as they would allow us to quit our day jobs. Without going into much detail, the plan goes awry, and they get set up to take the fall for something they are completely innocent of. The rest of the movie has them going on a mission to get the plates back and clear their names.

The director behind this unrestricted mayhem is Joe Carnahan. This is the same filmmaker who began his career with the $7,500 budgeted “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane” and later directed one of the best crime thrillers with “Narc.” Not once does he allow us to take the characters or what they are doing at all seriously, and it is clear from the get-go how he wants us to take joy in the utter insanity of everything going on. For those who think this movie could have been more serious and reality-based, you came into it with the wrong expectations.

Just look at the insane things these guys do here. They parachute out of a plane in a tank, and they are forced to steer it by firing the turret. There are other moments that defy simple description, and you just have to watch it without wondering too much over how they pulled this insanity off without a hitch. These are characters who prepare for their missions by doing the impossible, or so it would seem. While Carnahan at times gets caught up in the current trend of action film editing which features quick shots that leaves us a little confused as to what we are watching, he keeps us entertained throughout and even allows us to breathe when we need to. Not every filmmaker allows us to pause for a moment, so this is worth pointing out.

Seeing Liam Neeson here as John “Hannibal” Smith was great fun as it allows him to let loose in a way he doesn’t often. Typically, we see him as a mentor in movies like “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and “Batman Begins,” but as Hannibal, he doesn’t have to be his old serious self. Once you see him pop a cigar into his mouth and light it up, you can see why Neeson was eager to join this project. The “Taken” actor wanted to have fun and lighten up for a change.

Bradley Cooper plays Templeton “Faceman” Peck, the Casanova of the group who, despite his womanizing ways, still has eyes for Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel). Cooper has come a long way from beating the crap out of Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers,” and he manages to convince us of his various intentions and has us believing this despite all the craziness he keeps getting caught up in.

The part of B.A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus is played by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, former UFC Light-Heavyweight champion. I kept thinking that his nickname of “Rampage” won him the part. Taking on a part made famous by Mr. T could not have been an enviable position to be in, but Jackson pulls it off. Is this role a stretch for him? It doesn’t matter because he has us believing in Baracus, and that’s even when this character says he has become a pacifist. We all know that can’t last, and Jackson does surprisingly good work here and without the use of gold chains. Not one is he ever a fool we have to pity.

But the real scene stealer of “The A-Team” is Sharlto Copley who takes on the role of H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock. It is only when he slips back into his South African accent that you remember he was in one of the very best movies of 2009, “District 9.” Having said that, he actually pulls off a compelling southern accent here, showing us he is a far more talented actor than we first realized. Watching him go utterly nuts, be it jump-starting a car with a defibrillator or singing a Dead or Alive song while hanging onto a rotor blade of a helicopter had me in stitches.

Jessica Biel is on board as Faceman’s eternal love interest Charisa Sosa, and she makes for a convincing badass female soldier here. It’s in some ways the same kind of role she played in “Blade Trinity,” and it is nice to see her doing it again in an infinitely better movie.

For those of you wondering if the show’s famous theme song is at all featured, it is. While some say it is not in this movie enough, they should be happy it was included. The score was composed by Alan Silvestri, famous for writing the music for such classic movies like “Back to The Future” and “The Abyss.” Listening to his work here, it is great he still has it in him to create such rousing action scores to keep our adrenaline up and running.

“The A-Team” also proves what I have been saying about how the US military is treated in movies today; they are not anti-troop in the slightest, they are anti-mercenary. Whether it is “Rambo” or “The Hurt Locker” or “Green Zone” we are dealing with, troops are shown to be a dedicated bunch to their country. The main villains are mercenaries who don’t even try to hide the fact they make more in one day than an American soldier makes in a year. Now tell me, who do you think is more patriotic?

You could complain about how absurd this movie version of “The A-Team” is, but Carnahan plays on what made the show so appealing back in the 1980s, and he pays homage to it without making a simple carbon copy of what many of us grew up on. Every once in a while, we need a movie that is brainless fun and does not require us to overthink everything going on. “The A-Team” succeeds on this front, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought it would.

Oh, by the way, be sure to stay through the end credits. You’ll see why. Like the average Marvel movie, it has some surprises up its sleeve.

Like Eddie Pence of “The Ralph Report,” I very much appreciated this cinematic adaptation of this 1980s television classic. What a shame it is that this movie never got a sequel.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

The Hollars

The Hollars poster

The Hollars” is a movie I really wanted to like. It is a very earnest story featuring a family meant to mirror our own, but the movie doesn’t take long to become painfully earnest as it veers from sitcom-like humor to somber drama with real uneasiness. John Krasinski not only stars in “The Hollars,” he also directed it, and while he is aiming for the heights of “Terms of Endearment,” he instead gives us a film which is very uneven and not as satisfying as he wants it to be.

It’s another day in the Hollar household as Jason (Sharlto Copley) finds the bathrooms occupied by his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) and his dad Don (Richard Jenkins) to where he literally has to find a pot to piss in. But Sally suddenly falls down and (yes, I’m going to say it) can’t get up, and both men realize she is not suffering from the common cold. When Sally is diagnosed with a brain tumor, her other son, John (John Krasinski), comes straight from New York City to be by her bedside. Of course, John has problems of his own as he struggles to get his career as a graphic artist off the ground while working a job he is not at all enthused about, and his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), is expecting their first child. Suffice to say, the Hollar family has a number of problems to deal with, and those problems are only going to get worse before they can possibly get better.

Now “The Hollars” gets off to a good start with a scene which is both comical and dramatic as Don and Jason discover Sally lying immobile on the bathroom floor, and what at first looks like a joke turns into something very serious. The look on Jenkins’ face is unforgettable as Don slowly realizes he may be on the verge of losing his beloved wife. Till death us do part is always part of those marriage vows, but we are never prepared to deal with death when it comes knocking at the door.

But when John arrives at the hospital and reunites with his family, everything suddenly descends into what feels like a sitcom, and the laughs feel as forced as Don’s crying. Jenkins has been and always been a great character actor, but seeing him essentially emote here feels criminal. No one should ever make Jenkins emote, ever!

From there, “The Hollars” introduces characters who appear to come from different universes, and when they collide everything feels off. Their acting styles don’t mesh well with one another, and it feels like they belong in different movies. Charlie Day co-stars as Jason, a hospital nurse married to John’s ex-girlfriend, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, completely wasted in a frivolous role), and his performance is so broad to where I couldn’t wait for him to get off the screen. Even more disappointing is Sharlto Copley whose crazed energy which served him so well in “District 9,” “Elysium” and “The A-Team” movie is misplaced here as his character comes off as a stubborn jerk. His character should be empathetic, but Copley is unable to render him as such.

“The Hollars” works best when it grounds its characters in a reality we understand. As an actor, Krasinski has some nice moments, especially when he relives a childhood memory of swinging on a tire by the river. Singer Josh Groban is surprisingly good as a local preacher and succeeds in making him the most level-headed character to be found in this movie. And Anna Kendrick shows up in a few scenes and proves to be as delightful a presence as always.

But if there is anything which makes “The Hollars” worth the price of admission, it is Margo Martindale. She has long since proven herself to be one of the best actors working today as she can take the smallest moment in a play, television show or movie and make it completely unforgettable. Throughout this movie she works wonders as Sally faces an end no one is ever fully prepared for, and her performance is piercing in its emotional honesty. Just watch her as she talks about the time she visited the Fox Theater; she renders this moment so vividly that it’s as if she is painting with words instead of brushes.

Coming out of “The Hollars,” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Krasinski. This is clearly a project he put his heart and soul into, but he is unable to balance out the comedic and dramatic elements in the story. Making a movie like this is very tricky because all the characters need to be on the same plain of existence, and he’s unable to accomplish that. More often than not, the movie veers over to the comedic side but the laughs don’t come when you want them to. When it veers to the dramatic, scenes end up feeling emotionally forced which just torpedoes the impact Krasinski hoped it would have.

Still, “The Hollars” is not a complete loss as there are things audiences will be drawn to, and those who have been in situations like this family are more than likely to be moved by what they see. And for all its flaws, this movie does have something in it which is truly great: Margo Martindale’s performance.

Seriously, better luck next time Krasinski. I’ll be rooting for you.

* * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.