Anyone coming to director Joe Carnahan's "The A-Team" looking for arc, character or brains will instead find a $100-million bimbo: nice to look at, fun to spend a couple of hours with, but dumber than a box of hair. However, those looking to relive the magic of the original series should step right up.
Carnahan's philosophy toward "The A-Team" is summed up nicely towards the end of the film by Col. Hannibal Smith, who makes the keen observation that sometimes, "overkill is underrated." All of the TV series' comic-book sensibilities are turned up to the Nth degree in tis film, and brought to life with state-of-the-art moviemaking magic.
Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and Quentin "Rampage" Jackson star as Hannibal, Face, Murdock and BA, respectively, in the new film version, which finds the foursome trying to clear their names of charges for a crime they didn't commit, stealing a set of engraving plates that will allow the owner to literally print their own money. Why this is suddenly a concern when Kim Jong Il has been doing for a more than decade is never explained.
Neeson is fine as Smith, chewing stogies but not too much scenery, though at times he's a little earnest. George Peppard's incarnation was often joyous, rueful, angry... but never earnest. And Cooper confirms that his turn in "The Hangover" was no fluke, bringing an easy charm to the role of the consummate ladies' man.
But it's Copley and Jackson whose performances largely make the film work. Copley came out of nowhere as the star of "District 9" last year, showing a greater range and character arc than perhaps any other actor in 2009. Jackson, meanwhile, was tasked with the most thankless job, that of playing BA Baracus. We weren't the only one's who feared that the shadow of Mr. T (who's been slagging the film in the days ahead of its release) would loom too large over Jackson. Realizing that you don't replace Mr. T, you merely fill the role, Jackson and Carnahan crafted a Baracus different enough to avoid comparison, but totally recognizable.
What Jessica Biel is doing in this film is anyone's guess, they must've promised a her a bigger role in the inevitable sequel (trust, they set the stage at the end, stopping just short of flashing a title and release date on the screen). Biel's Charisa Sosa is a little in love with Face (of course) and acts tough, despite being totally feckless. When Hannibal Smith maps out a plan (he loves saying the word "plan" even more than he loves it when one comes together) that hinges on Sosa being "as good as I think she is," one can only think, "Uh-oh." She literally manages to do exactly one thing right throughout the film.
Not surprisingly, the whole film is a feminist nightmare, making mincemeat of the Bechdel Test. There are five women in the film: Face has slept with three of them and kissed a fourth, while the fifth woman is openly told that she's kept around for her looks.
Other than women, the big loser of "The A-Team" is Gandhi, who is no doubt spinning in his grave at the notion that Hannibal uses the legendary pacifist's words to inspire BA to kill. Seriously, folks, WTF?
For men of a certain age (guilty), just the first seven notes of the theme song from "The A-Team," followed by a burst of machine-gun fire, is enough to send their hearts aflutter. That said, news of a big-screen version was cause for both jubilation and dread. Both instincts were proven correct.