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The A-Team: Over the top and proud of it

Article Published: Jun. 17, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
The A-Team: Over the top and proud of it

Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Liam Neeson and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson star in The A-Team.

You know the drill.

A crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit.

These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground.

Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.

Cue the theme music, follow with equal parts campy action and cornball humor, and repeat after me, "I love it when a plan comes together."

It's a plan that worked for five seasons, countless reruns and, now, the big screen. The film adaptation of The A-Team takes all of the '80s series' endearingly cheesy ingredients and explosively ups the ante, giving it a modern treatment that's just as fun and gleefully over the top.

Like the show, this is a film that's not meant to be taken seriously, a quality fully embraced by director Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces) and producer (for both series and film) Stephen J. Cannell.
Carnahan's frenetic style complements the equally frenetic action, packed with ludicrous scenarios, noisy battles and abundant explosions. It's The A-Team on steroids, but because of its playful nature and inherent charm, due to a dead-on cast and a degree of nostalgia, it works.

Its primary drawback, for better or worse, is formula. Like the series, this update follows a predictable plot with visible twists and turns, but getting there is the fun part - the plan coming together, as it were.

Carnahan's A-Team is an origin story, reintroducing us to the iconic characters in a modern environment - leader and mastermind Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson, Taken), smooth-talking conman Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover), happily insane pilot Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley, District 9) and general bad-ass Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus (mixed martial artist Quinton "Rampage" Jackson).

Rather than Vietnam vets, this team is a Special Forces unit serving in Iraq, undertaking missions impossible and then some, but pulling them off with finesse, exuberance and low body counts.

When smarmy CIA agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson, Watchmen) assigns them what should be a cakewalk mission, the team is - surprise - set up for a crime they didn't commit. They're dishonorably discharged and sent to prison, but not for long. Encouraged by Lynch, who's still seeking the object of that fateful mission (plates for counterfeit money), the team escapes to find said plates in exchange for a clean record.

But they're pursued by Army Lt. Sosa (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist), Face's ex-flame, who, naturally, is always several steps behind them.

Along the way, they butt heads with a corrupt security contractor (Brian Bloom, Smokin' Aces), pilot a freefalling tank to safety (by blasting its cannon, no less), all the while shooting down enemy fighter drones. They also drive through walls, run down buildings and blow up lots and lots and lots of property.

It's absurd, ridiculous and blissfully self-aware of it all, and therein lays the fun. As Hannibal says in one scene, "Overkill is underrated."

While this is certainly so with the overblown action sequences, the cast never overdoes it with their characters, cartoonish as they may be. They respect the roles, honoring the originals while making them their own.

But particular credit should go to Copley as Murdock. The A-Team is only Copley's second feature film, the first being 2009's District 9, and he's simply hilarious in this role, a manic gleam in his eye all throughout.

Neeson's ideal as Hannibal, making a coolheaded character even more so, while Cooper could very well have been born to play today's Faceman. And Jackson successfully tackles a challenge in the title's most iconic role, one defined by '80s superstar Mr. T (Rocky 3). Rather than impersonate the T, haircut notwithstanding, Jackson manages to concentrate on the quirks (limited as they may be) that make the character.

And, while there's an obvious reference, he never once utters "I pity the fool," which originated in Rocky 3 and was not mentioned in The A-Team series. And that's not counting "You crazy fool," of which there's plenty.

The rest of the cast, though capable, is basically the same filler found in A-Team episodes - a means to an end. In this case, it's an open end, with plenty of room for a sequel or two. And you can rest assured, it involves an intricate plan, a setup montage and a vehicle exploding.

The A-Team, rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. Stick around after the credits, and you'll be treated to tongue-in-cheek cameos by Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz, the original Face and Murdock, respectively.

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