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When I was a kid, Tuesday night was pizza and A-Team night with my dad (my mother, presumably, had more intelligible things to concern herself with). Cheesy goodness for dinner and cheesy goodness to watch on television-life didn't get any better for the 10-year-old me. So the soft spot I have in my heart for the wrongly accused soldiers of fortune who could make rocket launchers out of paper towel rolls was always going to outweigh any latent film snobbery I may possess.
For the most part, the movie version lives up to the explosive popcorn (and pizza) fun of the original. It doesn't take itself any more seriously, and Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, and professional wrestler Quinton "Rampage" Jackson capture the merry masculine camaraderie that made the show so beloved to children of the '80s.
The nearly indecipherable plot, involving a group of Arabs printing U.S. currency that has no gold backing, may prompt a few laughs (after all, what's the big threat when the Federal Reserve is doing the same thing?), but here, plot is beside the point. The biggest selling points of The A-Team were always its action sequences and its characters.
On the action front no one can deny that director Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces) knows how to make things go boom. Though it's difficult at times to follow who is causing the action and why, the technical precision and sheer audacity of the destruction is a sight to behold. As in the television program, little blood is shed, but plenty of metal smashes together in an impressive variety of ways.
As for the team, Cooper may not be quite as handsome as Dirk Benedict, who originated the role of Templeton "Faceman" Peck, but his own blend of smarm and suave create an appealing lothario. Likewise, Jackson gives us a kinder and gentler B.A. Baracus than Mr. T did, but his take on the role works well in this gold-medallionless age. The real revelation though is Sharlto Copley as "Howling Mad" Murdock. Last seen brilliantly portraying a government worker infected by alien DNA in District 9, South African Copley is indeed hilariously howling mad. Less gimmicky than his television counterpart, his numerous spot-on accents keep the laughs coming, and the scenes of his misdeeds in a mental institution are alone worth the price of admission.
The only member of the original lineup who doesn't work is Irish-born actor Liam Neeson. Great as he was as Oskar Schindler and as the voice of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia films, Neeson is the wrong choice for Hannibal "I love it when the plan comes together" Smith. His overwrought American diction distracts and he lacks the rakish sparkle that George Peppard brought to the role. As the lone female lead, the less said about Jessica Biel the better. She may fill out a uniform nicely but her cardboard performance and the negative chemistry she has with Cooper derail every scene she's in.
But the biggest problem with the film version is material that shuts out a core part of its potential audience. No doubt part of the reason my father made the program a weekly ritual is because it was action adventure we could both enjoy. Things blew up, but no one was hurt. Face was a ladies man, but the romance was never explicit. B.A. Baracus had a bad attitude, but never a bad mouth. Not so with the PG-13 movie in which Bradley Cooper discusses having sex with a married woman and f-bombs and other obscenities proliferate. Unlike last year's summer blockbuster, Star Trek, The A-Team fails to capitalize on its day-at-the-movies-with-dad potential, and poor early box-office numbers are reflecting this lack of foresight. While the film will still be good fun for the dads (and moms) who loved the show, sadly few will feel comfortable sharing it with their kids.
Email Megan Basham