Hollywood today is obsessed with remakes. It’s an unfortunate fact that the things I loved as a child are going to be trotted out with shiny new duds and flashy special effects, and will be effective or ineffective based entirely on when they are released and what gets thrown into the mix, and not on the qualities that made the originals popular, successful, or special. This is nothing new, Hollywood has always regenerated its signature products. There’s been three versions of A Star Is Born, and there’s another one in the pipe for 2013. John Carpenter’s The Thing was a re-imagining of the Howard Hawks version from 1952, and there’s a prequel in the works (at least its not another remake). But it seems that right now, Hollywood is delving pretty far down the well to remake as much as they possibly can. I’ve come to terms with this, with the acceptance that the quality of the remake is going to have nothing whatsoever to do with my feelings on the source. This helps me lower my expectations considerably. Not everything is going to be as good as Battlestar Galactica or Ocean’s Eleven or The Addams Family. Heck, not everything is even going to be as good as the Beverly Hillbillies movie.
I also have come to terms with the fact that, for the most part, my 10 year old view of what was great is not the same as my 38 year old view of the same thing. When I was 10 years old, I loved four things above all others…. Star Wars, G.I. Joe, The Dukes of Hazzard, and the A-team. Looking back at all of these things today, only Star Wars still holds up to that affection*. The latter two TV shows, watched today, are silly, stupid, often borderline offensive. The Dukes of Hazzard is often only redeemed by James Best and Sorrell Booke, but the A-team still is carried by the great dynamic that was there in the cast, and you can’t deny that the episodes are fun. So going into the recent remake I largely set my expectations to 1) will I like this cast and B) will I enjoy what happens on screen. To my pleasant surprise, the answer to both of those questions is “yes, very much so”. The premise of the original film is somewhat intact, though tweaked. To my knowledge, there was never an origin story on the TV show as to how the four got together, just the show opener saying the familiar “elite team framed for a crime they did not commit”. This movie seeks to put them together, show their “crime”, and put them into a modern context (i.e. Mexico drug wars, Iraq War, etc). Does any of it make a lick of sense? Heck no, but who cares. The vast majority of the movie, naturally, is devoted to elaborate, Rube-Goldbergian stunt/action sequence setups that show exactly how this team, as the Jessica Biel character states, “specializes in the ridiculous”. Bailing out of a C-130 in a parachute equipped tank and dog-fighting with Predator drones is just that, as is the huge action sequence at the end. The main thing is that the movie is fun to watch and doesn’t require too much effort from the old noggin, just like the TV show.
As far as the characters go, casting was mostly good. Liam Neeson is a much better actor really than the part demands, but he’s still great (as usual), and gets some light comedy unlike most of his last few pics. Sharlto Copley (District 9) is good as Murdoch, though he’s a bit more manic than Dwight Schultz ever was. Biel is fine but doesn’t get much to do other than smolder, glower, and look good. Major Dad (Gerald McRaney) has a small part, co-writer Brian Bloom is really good as a Blackwater style merc, and Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson continues to put in enjoyable performances, this time as a smarmy, overconfident CIA operative. Of course the film’s real focus is on Cooper and Jackson, with different results for each. Cooper is rapidly becoming a MOVIE STAR, so he’s given the best lines and the most opportunities to show off his dreamy smile and his hunky chest, and to be fair he carries it off very well. Jackson is cast in the breakout role that made Mr. T a superstar and a cultural icon, and unfortunately doesn’t quite make it. Yes it’s not fair, but you HAVE to make the comparison. He tries, but while he’s got the look, his two tones are growling and mumbling. Whatever you think of Mr. T, he had a level of charisma and real comedic timing that really did make a connection with the audience. I don’t know who should have been cast…maybe Mike Tyson has that IT that would have worked. Who knows…… anyway, other than that, you can just catch Dirk Benedict and Dwight Shultz in walk-through cameos. Mr. T was offered a bit, but he declined due to disliking the script for being too violent. Presumably George Peppard wasn’t approached as he’s been dead for 16 years.
* Some movies still hold up as timeless and I don’t feel they should ever be replicated…. Star Wars, Goonies, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Stand By Me, Back to The Future, Cannonball Run. These movies have stood and should stand the test of time.