*The A-Team (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
The summer of 2010, so far, has been marred by the public's helplessness in the face of a bottomless geyser of oil spewing toxins into our delicately balanced ecosystem. And while it may seem insensitive to mention what may amount to the destruction of our planet in this context, our cultural sanity has seldom been in more dire need of a rescue from without — a deus ex machina of kick-ass.
So here comes The A-Team, right on cue (though minus the master of action-show outrageousness, Mr. T., who starred in the original). In writer-director Joe Carnahan's new cinematic version of the 1980s TV series, salvation swoops in at the last minute to remedy the day — usually in the form of a speeding vehicle, a high-powered cannon or a hulking brute.
Rarely have we seen a more explosive, self-assured display of reckless action abandon since the decade from which this story was spawned. Carnahan, finally living up the promise he showed in 2002's Narc, constructs a sturdy sequence of increasingly exaggerated events taken on by a ragtag band of misfits — Liam Neeson as "Hannibal," Bradley Cooper as "Face," Sharlto Copley as "Murdock" and UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson re-creating Mr. T's role as "B.A. Baracus" — who are witty and tough but make it all seem effortless.
By the end of the thrilling first act, which sees our crew of Army Rangers assemble only to be set up and imprisoned by a shady CIA agent, I found myself thanking the heavens that this was all being played out in front of me by this cast, and not the wooden action figures of, say, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. What a difference it makes to enjoy the company of this team of mercenaries and to be given permission, by Carnahan's sure hand, to root for them. And what a sadly foreign concept that has become in action movies.
Carnahan's set pieces are delightfully old-fashioned, despite their eye-popping zeal. With the exception of a few moments of jaw-dropping (and boundless) audacity — flying tank, anyone? — the filmmaker sticks with the time-tested quaintness of shootouts and grappling. And speaking of timeliness, the film takes an applause-worthy jab at 3-D that purists should relish.
Carnahan wraps the presentation in a beautiful bad-guy bow, enlisting Watchmen's Patrick Wilson as a bureaucratic prima donna who treats battle like he's playing a video game, and A-Team co-writer Brian Bloom as a bold government spook gone bad. The rapport between these two, especially, provides the movie's best scene, in which they address each other like competitive basketball players at the local gym; they're on the same team but they're both fighting for the ball.
Don't let claims that this A-Team is "wonderfully stupid" or "dumb fun" fool you: It takes a lot of smarts and a tank full of instinct to pull off something this exhilarating. Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and good escapism is damn near impossible. So far this summer (cover your ears, Tony Stark), it hasn't been done better than this.