SUCKER PUNCH SQUAD: 'The A-Team' Gets a “B”

It’s pretty clear from the loud and explodey and awesome trailer of the upcoming A-Team remake that the script version the Sucker Punch Squad’s source obtained was a draft or two back from the final shooting script. That’s a good thing, because the old script was a little slower, left out some treasured icons (Where’s the van!) and its B.A. Baracus had nowhere near the original show’s essential Mr. T-errificness.

So, all hail the new A-Team. I just hope they’ve fixed the one hackey sucker punch aspect – the lame use of U.S. contractors as, once again, the villain du jour.

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Now, anyone who at any point in the 1980s was unable to legally drive knows The A-Team and its mythology. Basically, a bunch of Vietnam War commandos are falsely accused of a crime, escape from a stockade and dodge the military police while acting as soldiers of fortune. George Peppard was their leader Hannibal Smith, Dirk Benedict was Face, the good-looking con man, Dwight Schultz was “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, the resident wacko, and Mr. T portrayed, well, pretty much himself.

Every week they crashed a lot of cars, shot millions of bullets without ever hitting anything, made smartass remarks and issued memorable catchphrases. This was all highly entertaining – particularly if you were a college student like me who enjoyed accepting creative drinking game challenges. Here’s a hint – designate not just a driver but a stretcher-bearer if you dare join in a round of “Let’s Watch The A-Team and Down a Brew Whenever Something Explodes.”

The remake updates the story and amps up the action. Liam Neeson is the new Hannibal, Bradley Cooper is Face, some guy I never heard of named Rampage Jackson (was that his given name?) is Mr. T, and that dude who morphed into a shrimp in District 9 is Murdock. The new A-Team is now composed of Iraq war vets falsely accused of a massive theft of artifacts from the Baghdad Museum. They get arrested, convicted, bust out and then – oh hell, you can watch the trailer yourself, but here’s a plot summary anyway:
Bang, pow, punch, “I ain’t getting on no airplane,” BOOM, cigar, “I love it when a plan comes together,” BOOM, vroom, pow, crash, more and bigger BOOMS, bang, bang, bang, set up for the sequel, the end.

This is quality entertainment. Plus Jessica Biel is in it and she’s on fire.

Now, the script does provide some moments of humor, some intentional and some unintentional. The unintentional stuff probably derives from the screenwriters’ (and there are lots of them, credited and uncredited, on this project) complete ignorance of the military. I like how the script has a C-130 carrying two M1A1 Abrams tanks and a Blackhawk helicopter in its hold. The Hercules can do a lot of things, but not defy the laws of physics.

But don't get me wrong. I’m all for this kind of summer rollercoaster big screen insanity. In the trailer, we see them fall out of the plane inside one of the tanks while lighting up an attacking Predator drone with a Ma Deuce .50 cal on the drop down. My departures from military aircraft in flight were not quite so colorful, but if you’re heading to The A-Team expecting the vivid realism of a cinema verite documentary you need to substantially recalibrate your expectations.

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The action is suitably over the top both on paper and even more so in the trailer, but there are a couple of scenes on the printed page of surprising harshness. I’m hoping the tone gets smoothed out in subsequent drafts, and the trailer looks as if it did. There’s nothing wrong with tough, brutal acts in some films, but that is kind of the antithesis of The A-Team aesthetic. This shouldn’t be the Omaha Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan.

Alas, there is a sucker punch of sorts, in that it appears the villains are that hoariest of current clichés, military contractors. James Cameron has been a pioneer in trashing American military members without the guts to just come out and do it with his “But those weren’t American Marines we were slaughtering - they were mercenaries” dodge in the unwatchable Avatar. Give me a break. The mere notion that American soldiers become evil the moment their camouflage fails to read “U.S. Army” on the nametape is as insulting to the audience’s intelligence as it is offensive to everyone who has served or is serving today.

Let me be real clear about something – U.S. military contractors like Halliburton protected me, fed me and did a bunch of other chores for me while I’ve been deployed, and today they are doing the same for hundreds of thousands of other American service members overseas. Many of them died doing it, killed by the same sons of bitches that shoot at our troops and murder civilians. Are contractors perfect? Nope. Neither are service members.

The fact is there is a real enemy out there. Can you Hollywoodoids guess who that might be? Here’s a hint: They killed 3000 Americans in 2001. Sure, portraying our real enemies as, well, our enemies, might cost you a few cocktail party invitations, but maybe you hacks might want to make them the bad guys once in a while and see what happens at the box office.

The fact is that American contractors are the current villain of choice for many in Hollywood because many industry types are too gutless to come straight out and trash our troops in the wake of the utter failure of every film that’s done it since we liberated Iraq. Come on, have the courage of your lack of convictions – you know you want to say it, just like your unwashed hippie mommy used to do to Vietnam vets before she sold out, showered off, and went mainstream in 1977: “Baby killers! Baby killers!”

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The spitting on the troops is optional, but I’d strongly advise against it unless you love the idea of undergoing substantial dental reconstructive work.

Not only does trashing American contractors let them get in some punches against the troops they are too gutless to admit they hold in contempt but it’s safe too. No contractor will be parking a ticking SUV outside of their studio; even abject cowardice and submission didn’t keep Comedy Central’s parent company safe from that guy Mayor Bloomberg and the media hoped was just mad about health care reform.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it. Hell, with The A-Team, any thinking is overthinking it.

Now, based on the script and the trailer, it seems unlikely that the writers of The A-Team have any conscious agenda beyond making things go boom in the most spectacular way possible. Their sin is most likely mere laziness; it’s too bad that their laziness happens to correspond with the very real loathing some in the industry feel for our troops and even our country. It would be nice, in a world full of real bad guys, for a movie to have the intestinal fortitude to actually name one of the real bad guys instead of trashing proud, brave Americans by falling back on the cheesiest and most tiresome of clichés.

Will I see The A-Team when it hits theatres June 11th? Well, as always, I’ll wait for the Big Hollywood review of the movie’s final version before plunking down the $12.50(!) a ticket they want. Hopefully, the contractor sucker punch will be nothing more than a sucker jab that is overshadowed by the smoke and flames and flying catchphrases. And all will be forgiven if they roll out Mr. T for a cameo. But if they don’t, well, I pity the fools.

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