In the final days of the Iraq War members of an elite commando unit were sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from four maximum security prisons to take revenge on the man who framed them. If you are having a boring summer at the movies if Sex and the City 2 left a bad taste in your mouth and if you can find a theater playing it you need to see The A-Team.
It’s no overstatement to declare that The A-Team is the first great action film of the summer. Say what you will about Iron Man 2 but the degree and multitude of insane sequences in The A-Team trump the more narcissistic Marvel sequel -- at least in that particular category. It is no innovation that a summer blockbuster would employ action as its primary tool for separating you from your cash but The A-Team does so with an entirely different mindset than most brain-dead popcorn fare.
Instead of assaulting us with nonstop action and then having the audacity to mask itself as being high art The A-Team embraces just how ludicrous the action sequences are and makes absolutely no apologies for it. That’s not to say though the movie has nothing to offer beyond the explosions and midair collisions. In fact what makes The A-Team such a damn good film is the clever underscore that complements every moment of mesmerizing destruction. Joe Carnahan along with the other writers gives us moments that subtly poke fun at the outlandishness of what we’re seeing that not only makes the absurd action forgivable but immediately elevates the material above the typical summer fodder.
Carnahan recognized that given the tone of both the series and his last film (Smokin' Aces) the action scenes needed to flow uninterrupted and here it's very streamlined only pausing briefly to give us hilarious interactions between the larger-than-life characters before diving head-first back into the explosive fray. Until the very end of the film each plan is carried out before our eyes as it is being hashed out to neutralize any lacking in the pace. It would be easy to then accuse The A-Team of being front-loaded given the slow build to the final sequence but I would argue that is merely a nod to the evolution of Face’s character as a leader and that it never really loses steam.
What really sells this film however is its cast. Like the original quartet of chaos each actor brings something fantastic to the table. Bradley Cooper as Face has that inescapably charming swagger and confidence we’ve come to expect from him; Liam Neeson unsurprisingly is the perfect blend of in-the-trenches badass and cool-as-ice leader. Even Rampage Jackson in the role made famous by a guy donning the entire payload of Ft. Knox around his neck (that'd be Mr. T) turns in a respectably tough performance with a few moments of decent hubris. But it’s Sharlto Copley who really steals the show as Howlin’ Mad Murdock. True to his character's moniker Copley cranks up the lunacy and plays Murdock with a hilariously reckless abandon that mirrors the tone of the entire film.
Though not without fault (the less-than-thrilling CG near the end of the film is amateurish at best and many will find the over-the-top action too silly to appreciate) all in all this movie rocks hard. The interplay between our heroes is at the heart of the film's entertainment value and is what you will probably like the most about it. Personally I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun at the movies. The A-Team is far better than it has any right to be mainly because it is as much a four-sided character piece as it is a balls-out actioner.
Oh boy does it ever! From the opening sequence in which Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) inadvertently helps an ultimately doomed woman deliver her baby amid a hail of bullets and then severs the umbilical chord by shooting it you get a pretty clear picture of what you’re in for here. Smith may be the “angriest man in the world ” but he’s also a fairly chivalrous one. Once he has the little tyke in his possession he has no other choice but to protect it from an endless stream of assailants--led by the sadistic Hertz (Paul Giamatti)--engaging in every conceivable permutation of gunfight. Smith even teams up with a prostitute (Monica Bellucci) whose specialty is catering to those men with a fetish for suckling on lactating breasts. She proves very useful in this scenario. Question is why does everyone want this baby dead? Trust me the explanation is stupid and superfluous; it’s the 80-minute shooting gallery that makes this actioner fly. Even though Clive Owen is absolutely spot-on as the hardboiled antihero Mr. Smith the actor must be able to do it in his sleep by now having basically played the same role in films such as Inside Man and Children of Men. And along with Children of Men he’s now pretty good at assisting a woman in childbirth too. Still we love it when he shoots a gun. Giamatti is the one who goes out on a limb in Shoot ‘Em Up. When casting a cold-blooded vicious killer the sweet sad sack from Sideways isn’t your immediate image. Ah but that’s what makes Giamatti such a consummate actor. Flashing a Cheshire cat-like grin and armed with an arsenal of one-liners he doesn’t downplay his nerdy appearance but rather relishes it playing Hertz as far over the top as he can possibly get without looking completely ridiculous—which allows him to say things like “Well f**k me sideways ” with a straight face. Giamatti is a real treat. Bellucci on the other hand is fairly wasted. She’s obviously there to add a feminine touch--being able to feed the baby and all—as well as have raucous sex with our leading man. But her character doesn’t really add anything else to the proceedings. Writer/director Michael Davis really hasn’t had his shot (pun intended) yet. Moving up from the B-movies (anyone heard of Monster Man or Girl Fever?) Davis finally gets to show some of his stuff with Shoot ‘Em Up. Obviously influenced by the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantinos of the filmmaking world Davis crafts a thrilling action-packed film shot in that gritty style so popular these days. Besides all the gunplay Davis also incorporates a few other creative ways of offing people such as shoving a carrot (something Mr. Smith is fond of eating) into someone’s eye. And well a lactating prostitute is just pure genius. Still it's all about guns which rule supreme as well they should with such a titular title. The four or five gun battles get more spectacular culminating with an aerial shootout after jumping out of an airplane with parachutes. Shoot ‘Em Up however could have used a rewrite by Mr. Tarantino. Sure the purpose of this movie is to show as many guns being shot off in as many ways as possible but a plausible story would have been nice too. Oh well.
Well the verdict is in: Jackass: Number Two is not soft-core. In fact the stunts are more vomit inducing than ever before which in the immortal word of Steve-O is rad! All of your favorite Jackasses are back for more um fun. That’s right--Johnny Knoxville Steve-O Bam Margera Chris Pontius Preston Lacy Ryan Dunn Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna and others have returned to again defy death and sober logic as they take on more elaborate stunts. The stunts this time around involve guns rockets ramps terrorism and animals but not to be forgotten are the fail-proof anatomical gags some of which involve said animals and all of which are too vulgar to reference in any way shape or form here. In summation: more of the same tom-Jackass-ery we’ve come to expect out of these borderline-sane skate-punk dudes. A lot’s changed since Jackass’ early days as an MTV show--most of these “actors”/circus freaks have since gone on to stardom--but all the Jackasses still share an undying love for hurting themselves. Aww. With Jackass the secret weapon has always been the disparate personalities: No two of these guys react the same to their own demise and frankly it’s hilarious. Truth is the commentary’s half the fun! Knoxville brims with charisma and pulls off the rare feat of endearing himself to the Jackass faithful even after having become a movie superstar. His drunken (sounding) laugh is infectious and yes the guy with the most to lose takes the biggest beatings and risks in this movie--how can you not love that?! Then there’s Steve-O whose trademark drawl could be mistaken for a stoned Fran Drescher; he’s the resident self-mutilation whiz. And Margera renowned for terrorizing his folks actually displays a soft side in Number Two (to say more would give away the twist). Cameos from directors Spike Jonze and John Waters Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor Dukes of Hazzard director Jay Chandrasekhar and more only add to the fun. Indeed everyone wants to be a Jackass! While hard to pinpoint clearly there is talent necessary somewhere to make Number Two succeed like it does. That talent likely comes from the behind-the-scenes troublemakers like writers Sean Cliver and Preston Lacy and director Jeff Tremaine the latter two of whom appear in Number Two. Neither the reactions of the Jackasses nor their spontaneity during the stunts are choreographed but it does take a lot of advance preparation--i.e. contingency plans a portable hospital and it would seem booze by the boatload to get the mania into full swing--for a single scene to work. Furthermore to think up such absurdly elaborate ideas is either very painstaking and difficult or very easy--as in watching-episodes-of-Tom-and-Jerry-and-Roadrunner easy. Paramount though to pulling off each and every sequence is getting it all in one take for obvious reasons and Tremaine and co. manage to pull that off like they do everything else.