"Overkill is underrated," says Hannibal Smith, leader of "The A-Team," while planning a particularly elaborate and explosive scheme to trap a bad guy.
Director and co-writer Joe Carnahan apparently subscribes to this school of thought, as well.
If you're looking for subtlety, look elsewhere. Carnahan's big-screen version of the '80s TV series is ridiculously over-the-top, full of wild helicopter chases and exploding sport utility vehicles and tumbling cargo containers. At times it feels like little more than a cacophony of automatic gunfire and shattered glass.
Then again, you shouldn't really expect anything else given the source material and the director's own filmography. Carnahan previously wrote and directed "Smokin' Aces" from 2007, a piece of wannabe Guy Ritchie bombast about a Vegas assassination attempt — but he also made the tremendous and little-seen drama "Narc" from 2002, starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric as Detroit cops.
"The A-Team" combines the enormity and stylishness of the former with (some of) the intelligence and character development of the latter — a surprising amount, given the time of year it's hitting theaters. But mainly it's just flat-out fun, with a cheeky sense of humor — way more enjoyable than you might expect when you consider the ignominious history of movies inspired by TV shows. ("Leave It to Beaver," anyone?)
Carnahan keeps things moving, making the two-hour running time fly by. The film's fluid editing is especially noticeable during the big set pieces — impossibly complex, intricately timed missions that the team makes look easy.
The strength of the cast helps: Liam Neeson as Hannibal, the team's cigar-chomping mastermind, whom George Peppard played on television; Bradley Cooper, an ideal choice to step into the Dirk Benedict role as charmer Templeton "Face" Peck; and "District 9" star Sharlto Copley bringing equal amounts of humor and danger to the role of "Howlin' Mad" Murdock. Even mixed martial arts star Quinton "Rampage" Jackson offers a solid presence, filling the intimidating shoes of Mr. T to play B.A. Baracus. One would, in theory, pity the fool asked to do that; Jackson does just fine in his first film role.
The basic details are the same, though the period has shifted to the present day; having said that, it's also a bit of a prequel to the show's adventures. Instead of being Vietnam veterans, they're in the final days of troop withdrawal from Iraq in the script Carnahan co-wrote with Brian Bloom, who has a small but pivotal supporting part.
Still, Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. are former Army Rangers framed for a crime they didn't commit; "The A-Team" follows their efforts to clear their names and find the real culprits behind a botched attempt at stealing back some U.S. currency plates. Jessica Biel is all business as the Army captain who chases them once they escape and go on the run, and Patrick Wilson's pretty-boy looks make him ideally smarmy as the CIA operative with mysterious motives and allegiances.
While several of the action sequences flow beautifully and have a great energy about them, others look fake and cheesy, with distractingly cartoony special effects. Still, the pyrotechnics should please the guys in the audience looking for mindless summer fun. And for the women ... Cooper has his shirt off early and often. And he's clearly been to the gym.
"The A-Team," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking. Running time: 118 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.
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