First things first. The four main cast members of the "A-Team" are the best thing about the movie, do great jobs in their respective roles, and deserve all the praise they've gotten, especially Sharlto Copley. They manage to rise above a poorly written script, dishwater dull direction, and all the other hallmarks of a FOX Studios production. The film is still pretty lousy, but at least it's watchable. Absent the efforts of these actors, I shudder to think what the results would have looked like.
Children of the 80s, was anyone waiting for an "A-Team" movie? I grew up on the reruns like so many others, watched Mr. T become an icon of the decade alongside ALF and Mr. Rogers, and know the thunderous theme song by heart. I didn't want or need a film version. I was perfectly happy with my memories of George Peppard's grinning, cigar-chomping mug, Dirk Benedict in those wince-worthy 80s pastel suits, and Dwight Schultz's genial lunacy. And Mr. T. What kid didn't love Mr. T? You show me a kid who didn't love Mr. T, and I'll show you a soulless worm or an IRS auditor. The TV show was such a fixture of the era, the idea of a modern update instantly makes one recoil. It would be like rebooting MASH, set in Kabul. Sure, you could do it, and with enough talented people involved you could probably do a decent job of it, but you'd lose too many of the fundamental, defining qualities of the original.
Of course, this is exactly what happens in the new film version. We start over from the beginning, getting to know Colonel Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), Faceman (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Rampage Jackson), and Murdock (Sharlto Copely), four Army Rangers whose paths cross for the first time in Mexico. They retain the broad characteristics of the characters from the television show, but register as different individuals. The least successful of these is Neeson's Hannibal, a grimmer leader figure without nearly as much twinkle-eyed pizazz as his predecessor. Neeson does do a decent job, so I won't complain. Cooper convincingly schmoozes as Face, the group's smooth operator, and Jackson is good at ranting, so the movie gives B.A. Baracus every opportunity to do so. Finally, Copely steals the show as Murdock, the unhinged helicopter pilot who isn't as crazy as as he seems.
After the pre-title action sequence concludes, we skip ahead a few years to find the foursome in Baghdad at some point during the recent Gulf War, operating together as a unit with a reputation for grade-A kickassery. We're also introduced to Faceman's ex, Captain Sosa (Jessica Biel), a thankless role that requires her to scowl and glare at people for the majority of her screen time. In short order, the A-Team takes on a covert mission that goes wrong, get stabbed in the back, and then drummed out of the Rangers and into separate prisons. Skip ahead again, ignoring that nobody in this film ever visibly ages a day, and a clue to the whereabouts of the real villain prompts the team back into action. And then it's on to escape, revenge, grandiose plans, action, mayhem, and all that good stuff that we go to action movies for.
The television show lured viewers in with campy, silly master plans, MacGuyver-style mechanical wizardry, and a little slapstick to keep the mood light. By contrast, the movie overloads on computer-generated explosions, military hardware, shiny vehicles, and over-choreographed fight sequences. There are fun moments, such as the team's rescue of Murdock, a passport mix-up at the airport, and the infamous flying tank, but these are few and far between. There are easily as many lousy scenes, such as a third act conversation between Sosa and one of the villains that drags on for endless minutes. Another that left me baffled was a heist sequence intercut with a planning session for that heist, presented in such a way that I wasn't sure whether it was meant to be action or exposition.
Joe Carnahan, best known for "Smoking Aces," gives us a lot of flashy cacophony, but he doesn't really sell the action that's supposed to be the film's biggest selling point. There's a lot of posturing and a lot of screaming, but you don't actually see much happening most of the time, and what you do see is the same sort of generic fights that did absolutely nothing for "The Losers" and "Repo Men" earlier this year. This is a real disappointment, because if anything should have benefited from "The A-Team" getting the big screen treatment, it was the action. Make no mistake, we get some of the wacky, flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants improvisation that made the TV show so much fun. But not enough. There's way too much boom, when the song should go badda-bing, badda-boom.
Otherwise, the plot is ridiculous, but not any more so than the ones from the original show. If nothing else, some of the one-liners are pretty good, and I like the new guys. The actors have a great rapport with each other and establish their larger-than-life characters so well, I can't help hoping for a better sequel even as I dread a worse one at the same time. So all in all, I'll give the "A-Team" a passing grade, but if someone in charge had a brilliant plan going into this, I'm afraid it just didn't come together.