As Hollywood continues drilling deeper and deeper offshore for exploitable properties, it's not surprising that they've tapped a memorably trashy TV show whose explosive popularity fizzled nearly 25 years ago. Not that you could ever tell my adolescent self that the A-Team was anything less than awesome, but the series was disposable fluff, high-spirited nonsense all about 'tude instead of substance — and, in that sense, this entertaining new edition captures the gung-ho insanity to a Mr. T.
The original crew ruled during the peak of overheated Yankee jingoism, when popular culture aimed to get its ass-kicking groove back after a decade of national malaise, with outlaw Vietnam vets serving as a (sort of) fictional Ronnie Reagan's Raiders, keeping the world safe from drug cartels, mafiosi and the occasional terrorist.
The film update delves into the origins of the unjustly accused crack special-forces unit: Col. J. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson, Lt. Templeton "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper), Cpl. Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and Capt. "Howling Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley). After getting set up by vicious Blackwater-style mercenaries, the guys must bust out of prison, recover stolen treasury plates and regain their good names, all while kicking the crap out of a few bad guys
On TV, the action was infamously bloodless; countless rounds of ammo flew freely, never hitting anything but tires and gun barrels. The new boys do slightly more damage, but about the only thing these guys kill indiscriminately is brain cells.
Hannibal, the unit's cigar-chomping leader, avows that "overkill is underrated," a slogan director Joe Carnahan must have in his DNA. Remember, Carnahan's the dude who made the stupidly bombastic and occasionally audacious Smoking Aces, a wild film (parody?) that wore its body counts and bad behavior with pride. What's funny is there's tension here in the director's attempt to rein in mayhem to maintain the PG-13 rating, though he's clearly itching to flip off the safety.
He trades splatter for ridiculously exciting stunts, including driving a tank out of the back of an exploding aircraft, mid-flight.
Liam Neeson couldn't bury his Irish brogue with a shovel, and while he's intense and looks the part, he lacks the devilish twinkle and easy charm that made George Peppard shine. Cooper, though, is perfection, as the obnoxiously smug, buttery smooth-talker who never met a situation he couldn't yak his way out of, or a set of panties he couldn't yak his way into. And Copley steals scene after scene, ably following up his District 9 debut with an amusing array of vocal ticks and improvised hilarity. You could pity the fool who slips on Mr. T's mohawk, but UFC champ "Rampage" Jackson has the physical size and attitude to carry it off, if not the acting chops.
The script allegedly passed through no less than 11 (?!) different screenwriters, and that grisly sausage-making process is evident in a film that layers on pointless particulars, then omits details and context seemingly at random. Fortunately, the A-Team's true mission is simply to irradiate summer boredom by any dumb-fun means necessary. To quote Hannibal, "I love it when a plan comes together."
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].