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With: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom
Written by: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Wood, based on a TV series created by Frank Lupo, Stephen J. Cannell
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking
Running Time: 117
Date: 06/03/2010

The A-Team (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Straight Up A's

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's doubtful that anyone is under the impression that "The A-Team," the NBC TV series that ran from 1983 to 1987, was any kind of Pulitzer Prize winner. This is also the case with many other TV shows that have inspired big-budget movies. The secret to making a good one is deciding what made the show work, and then forgetting all of it and starting from scratch. Joe Carnahan's new feature film The A-Team retains a few key elements from the original: genuine humor, willful ridiculousness, and cheerful stupidity. "Overkill is underrated," says one character.

Carnahan and co-writers Brian Bloom and Skip Wood have succumbed to the urge to create an origin for this super team, but they happily confine it to a pre-credits sequence. (It contains the source of B.A. Baracus's fear of flying.) Basically, four ex-Army Rangers find themselves working together as a kind of under-the-radar military team, the kind that gets things done when too much red tape gets in the way. Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) is the gray-haired, cigar-chomping leader; Carnahan snatches his signature line from the TV show, "I love it when a plan comes together," and takes it seriously. Hannibal now talks about "plans" in just about every other line of dialogue.

Lt. "Faceman" (a.k.a. "Face") Peck (Bradley Cooper) plays it close to Dirk Benedict's characterization on the show. He's ready to seduce any hot girl that happens to be around, and for some reason, they're always around, even in Baghdad, and even in prison. Sgt. B.A. Baracus (mixed martial arts fighter Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) begins with his traditional Mr. T mohawk, but lets it grow back for his dramatic character arc in which he temporarily becomes a pacifist. Perhaps the best touch is the casting of Sharlto Copley from District 9 as Capt. "Mad" Murdock, the crack pilot and all around howling lunatic. Copley manages a terrific clownish performance, tossing out various accents and languages like loose change and spewing out zingy one-liners so well that you feel guilty as you're laughing.

These four wander into a traditional "we were set up" plot. They are charged with getting back some stolen printing plates for U.S. money, a leftover from the Iraq War. Carnahan shows the sequence just like in the show, crossing bits and pieces of the setup, the assembling of seemingly random equipment, with the actual plan going into effect. It's beautifully cut and still effective; it withholds just enough information to keep us guessing, rather than laying it all out in order. The team succeeds, but a general is murdered, the plates are lost, and the men are arrested. They, of course, must break out of prison, find the real culprits and the plates, and clear their names.

Carnahan (Narc, Smokin' Aces) directs with an odd mixture of joy and clunkiness. He's a film junkie who loves the way movies move, and he loves vehicles. The chases and escapes with cars, planes and helicopters (and especially a flying tank -- don't ask), are exhilarating, but unfortunately, the human-on-human sequences are hopelessly cluttered and shaky, and it's impossible to follow some of the many fights.

Capt. Sosa (Jessica Biel) is the requisite babe on board, and she and "Face" have a little history together, but not much chemistry. "Face" cooks a little hotter with some of the more random girls that appear and disappear in a single scene. Patrick Wilson co-stars as a CIA man called Lynch, and Brian Bloom is a spoiled Black Forest man named Pike. Just about everyone outside the team is either a hottie or a suspect, but the plot isn't really the point. It's the pleasure of watching the "plan come together."

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