Review: 'The A-Team'

(One-and-a-half stars)

Cue the theme song: It's another TV remake for the big screen. The title "The A-Team" refers to an "alpha unit" of elite Army Rangers, but the only thing top-of-the-line about Joe Carnahan's stupefying action movie is the budget.

That budget can buy you a star of the caliber of Liam Neeson, but it can't make him do good work. As fearless team leader Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (played on the 1983-87 NBC series by George Peppard), Neeson tries very hard to look as if he's having fun. The film's elaborate opening sequence serves as the origin of the team, with partners Hannibal and inveterate womanizer Lt. "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper) joining forces with aggro Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus (mixed martial arts fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and certifiably insane Capt. H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copley of "District 9"), symbolically destroying the series' signature black GMC van in the process.

Carnahan had a strong debut with the 2002 film "Narc," but he showed his true colors with 2006's loud and dumb "Smokin' Aces." The obnoxious "The A-Team" emulates the latter, with more explosions. The movie retains the basic premise of the TV show, with the team framed for theft and murder, dishonorably discharged, and incarcerated. Plan-loving Hannibal affects an escape, and the team operates off the grid, righting wrongs and seeking to clear its good names.

It's still escapist fare, though the series' cartoon violence has become more graphic and the language saltier. Added to the mix are Jessica Biel (as an Army captain who melts over Face), Patrick Wilson (as an untrustworthy CIA agent), Brian Bloom (as the head of the team's Blackwater-style unfriendly competition), and Gerald McRaney as Hannibal's friend-in-high-places General Morrison.

Screenwriters Carnahan, Bloom and Skip Woods operate mostly on autopilot, and matters only worsen when they misguidedly believe they have an opportunity in "The A-Team" to explore philosophy. Hannibal's cigar-chomping catch-phrase "I love it when a plan comes together" becomes the seed of bizarrely monastic musings like "I don't subscribe to coincidence. I believe that no matter how random things might appear, there's still a plan."

The endless talk of plans grows especially bizarre when fool-pitying B.A. -- having embraced non-violence -- trades Gandhi quotes with Hannibal in an unintentionally funny ethical debate. (There's also a hilarious implication that B.A. is a reverse Sampson, his Mohawk haircut the symbol of his strength.)

Otherwise, "The A-Team" is, to its detriment, a very modern action movie, defined by its disinterest in character, general tastelessness and incoherent, whiplash-inducing photography and editing. A scene involving a "flying" tank suggests the kind of fun and loony action-adventure the movie might have been, but everything else in the picture is frantic without bringing the fun.

Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, language and smoking. 1 hour, 59 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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