The record for adapting old TV shows into successful feature films has been less than stellar. The Fugitive is the only true standout. Several rungs down the ladder are middling efforts like Starsky and Hutch and Miami Vice. Dwelling in the basement are truly terrible movies such as Land of the Lost, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Dukes of Hazzard. Joining the ranks of big-budget Hollywood remakes is The A-Team which finds itself somewhere in the middle. It’s certainly not high-brow cinema, but it is pure popcorn entertainment. The A-Team manages to capture the campy overtones and ludicrous elements of the original series. In return, the movie version asks nothing more from its audience than to turn off their brains and not over think a non-stop barrage of nonsensical action sequences.
A movie version of The A-Team has been in development for well over a decade. It’s taken so long that the team was originally changed from Vietnam vets to veterans of the Gulf War. Later, they were stationed in the Middle East just before the Iraq invasion. Now, they’re station in Iraq at the time of the troop withdrawal. All the players remain relatively the same.
Liam Neeson fills the very big shoes of the late-George Peppard as the cigar chomping team leader, Col. Hannibal Smith. Bradley Cooper is Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck and District 9’s Sharlto Copley is their crazy pilot, Capt. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock. Finally, we have MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as the Mohawk-wearing bruiser, B.A. Baracus.
The film opens with a messy prologue showing how the A-Team was assembled. While working to take down a corrupt Mexican general, Face is captured in the enemy camp. Running through the desert to his rescue, Hannibal just happens to come across B.A. driving his trademark black van. B.A. is stuck south of the border, forced to steal cars as a ransom for his van being held hostage. It doesn’t really make sense since B.A. just beats all the guys up and takes his van anyway. But, logic is a foreign concept in this film. Face is saved and the trio rendezvous at a military hospital where they pick up the nutty Murdock.
Fast-forward eight years and we pick up at the troop withdrawal. The A-Team is approached by a CIA agent named Lynch (Patrick Wilson) requests their help in stealing back printing plates that could be used to counterfeit U.S. currency. Predictably, our heroes are double-crossed by a private security force led by Pike (Brian Bloom, also one of the credited screenwriters). The plates are blown up along with their commanding officer, Gen. Morrison (Gerald McRaney). Now, the team must break out of separate federal prisons and clear their names with Face’s former flame, Capt. Sosa (Jessica Biel), hot on their heels.
Neeson brings more than a sly smile to the picture; he lends a sense of credibility which is sorely needed. Only Neeson can make you buy into a discussion he has about Gandhi with a fellow that has “PITY” and “FOOL” tattooed on his knuckles. The same goes for Cooper and Copley, the latter of whom is hilarious and far more manic than the original Murdock. Jackson feels dispensable as Baracus, No one can replace Mr. T, but Jackson brings nothing unique to the table.
Hannibal’s famous catchphrase has always been, “I love it when a plan comes together.” He coins a new one in the film, ”Overkill is underrated,” and overkill is a specialty of Joe Carnahan, who previously directed Narc and Smokin’ Aces. He’s like Tarantino with A.D.D., but without the encyclopedic knowledge of cinema. Strike that. Carnahan is a knockoff of a Tarantino knockoff (ahem…Guy Ritchie). He furiously whips us about from one over-the-top action scene to another. We watch as the A-Team play the world’s biggest shell game with cargo containers and attempt to steer a tank as it plummets through the air.
The A-Team is the dictionary definition of the Hollywood summer blockbuster. It’s loud, dumb, and goofy fun for the undemanding moviegoer.