'The A-Team' remake an explosive success

While laying out another mission that is too outrageous to work but will, ringleader Col. Hannibal Smith hears a member of the A-Team declare the caper sounds too complicated.

"Overkill is overrated," says Smith.

Try telling that to director Joe Carnahan, whose plan to resurrect the 1980s action heroes comes together in style, and action fans will love it.

The A-Team is literally a blast, from the opening credits containing more thrills than the average shoot-'em-up (and more laughs than some comedies), to a climactic orgy of CGI destruction. It's as loud and dumb as any summer movie has a right to be, with one big difference: These triggermen are characters etched into pop culture, from one of the 1980s most popular TV shows.

Carnahan and his co-writers cherish their quirks and catchphrases — one of them overused — creating a rare action behemoth with personality. Smart casting pushes the characters beyond mere nostalgia but not to the point that we don't recognize the actors they're channeling.

Take Liam Neeson as Hannibal, playing the late George Peppard's role with the same cigar-chomping gusto, and nearly the comb-over. Neeson's Irish burr can be a distraction at times — these are purely American heroes, after all — but there's always the swagger of a born leader. Not to mention the patience of a saint in corralling his unpredictable crew.

Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck is an incorrigible ladies man with a smart mouth, a role that Dirk Benedict played mostly for looks on TV. Bradley Cooper isn't as classically handsome but makes up for that with roguish humor. Extreme fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A. Baracus is a physically imposing match for Mr. T (minus all that bling and, for a while, his Mohawk). The comedy standout is Sharlto Copley (District 9) as "Howling Mad" Murdock, an ace pilot with a toolbox worth of screws loose in his head.

The opening credits take us back to the beginning that the TV series didn't, with Hannibal and Face narrowly escaping Mexican death traps and meeting B.A. and Murdock for the first time. It's a match made in Smith & Wesson heaven. Eight years and 80 covert missions later, the A-Team is the best hope to solve a Middle East crisis.

Someone in Iraq is planning to counterfeit U.S. currency to disrupt the nation's rebuilding, the plates stashed somewhere in Baghdad where troops can't officially go. The A-Team gets the go-ahead from a general (Gerald McRaney) and a cocksure CIA agent (Patrick Wilson, loosening up for a change). The leader of a Blackwater-style band of military contractors (Brian Bloom) doesn't appreciate the competition.

Forget the plot, which is basically whatever needs to happen for the boys to do something else riskily outrageous. (The aerial dogfight in which one of the "dogs" is a parachuting tank is pretty darn cool.) "They specialize in the ridiculous," says an Army officer (Jessica Biel), making the most salient point in the script. But you can't complain much with so many thunderous things happening. Who'd hear you, anyway?

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

The A-Team

Grade: A-

Director: Joe Carnahan

Cast: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bloom, Gerald McRaney

Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods, based on characters created by Stephen J. Cannell, Frank Lupo

Rating: PG-13; intense action violence, profanity, smoking

Running time: 118 min.

'The A-Team' remake an explosive success 06/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 8:14am]

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