This plot isn't nearly as convoluted as in his previous film, Smokin' Aces, but director Joe Carnahan brings the same unabashed sense of gleeful mayhem to his take on the 1980s action-comedy series The A-Team. The movie is an origin story - a two hour expansion on essentially the opening credits of the show. How did these guys meet? What crime were they accused of that they didn't commit? Why is B.A. afraid to fly, and what's with the mohawk? All these questions and more are answered.
I really couldn't tell you with any certainty what the plot of the film is, so I am cribb. Hannibal (Liam Neeson) and Face (Bradley Cooper) already know each other when the movie begins, and very soon after the opening scene Hannibal meets B.A. (Quinton Jackson) and they rescue Face from some Mexican badasses. The threesome, in desperate need of a pilot, recruit "Howling Mad" Murdock (District 9's Sharlto Copley). And by recruit, I mean break him out of a mental hospital, because his insanity is all too real.
There is a ridiculously over-the-top opening action sequence, culminating in Hannibal uttering his famous line from the show - "I love it when a plan comes together!" And "eight years and eighty successful missions later", the Alpha Team is stationed in Iraq. They take on a mission, against fairly sound advice, and though the mission is a success, the only person who could have testified that they were acting on the U.S.'s behalf ends up being killed, and the four of them are dishonorably discharged and sent to separate maximum security prisons. Pretty darn close to the background of the show.
The rest of the film is about them breaking out and attempting to clear their names and be reinstated. This doesn't quite happen, but it effectively serves as background for the canon of the show, where we were told each week:
"...a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team."
Something I used to love about the show back in the day was that the good guys always won and nobody got hurt (or at least killed). There have been complaints (from Mr. T, for one) that the movie doesn't follow this formula (he also complains about the sex in the movie, which makes me think he went to see something else, because there is nothing sexual except some innuendo and one kiss in the film). But I submit that both the nature of the times and the nature of the medium of film make the violence necessary. And something I appreciated is that the movie, as empty as it is in most respects, manages to deal with the violence in a surprisingly thoughtful way, giving Quinton Jackson a lot more to do with B.A. than Mr. T got to do on the show - and even giving the mohawk a backstory!
One thing critics complained about that I kind of loved - the flashbacks to things that we saw half an hour or so before. The biggest example of this is in the climax. We've already seen Face lay out the plan, but when we see the plan executed, we flash back to that "plan" scene again, and the lines have a little more meaning. Tons of movies have used this effect, and I think - at least in the climax (perhaps using it more than once was overkill) - it was crucial to understanding what was going on and the knowledge that everything that happened was part of the plan.
It might be silly, but I loved this movie to pieces. There are some weak spots, sure (most notably Biel's character, who is pretty badly written), but the good stuff far outweighs any of that. Neeson is surprisingly good in such an uncharacteristic role. Bradley Cooper is hilarious, and gorgeous. Quinton Jackson, as I said above, gives B.A. a lot more meat than just the fool-pitying. Sharlto Copley is the best thing about the "Team." And Patrick Wilson as the CIA heavy is possibly the best thing about the entire movie.