Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Joe Carnahan, director & co-script w/Brian Bloom and Skip Woods
Ridley & Tony Scott, Stephen J. Cannell, Jules Daly & Alex Young, producers
Starring: Liam Neeson (Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith), Bradley Cooper (Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck), Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (Sgt. B.A. Baracus), Sharlto Copley (Capt. H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock), Jessica Biel (Capt. Carissa Sosa), Patrick Wilson (Col. Lynch)
Back in the mid-Eighties when network TV series hits regularly drew over 12 million viewers a week, The A-Team was a smash success. A high-stakes action thriller, produced and often scripted by Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, etc.), the show caught the ethos of Ronald Reagan’s America. The team was made up of right-wing rebels: Vietnam vets convicted of “a crime they didn’t commit,” who fought both the Establishment and “bad guys,” miraculously doing the right thing while still being pursued by the Law.
The TV equivalent of Rambo, The A-Team welcomed back Vietnam soldiers into the mainstream, making them heroes and rebels at the same time. The show created the cultural icon Mr.T, a muscular “bad attitude” black American complete with Mohawk hair cut and comic-book scowl, who was still cute and cuddly enough to play Santa Claus to Nancy Reagan in a famous Christmas photo. In his last major part, former movie star George Peppard was the A-Team’s tough-as-nails leader “Hannibal” Smith, while TV actors Dick Benedict as con man “Faceman” Peck and Dwight Schultz as the crazy pilot “Howling Mad” Murdock played the rest of the gang.
25 years later, The A-Team is back as a blockbuster summer spectacular. This time, the renegade warriors lose their stripes in the Iraq war because of a violent double-cross involving counterfeit US mint plates worth billions of dollars. Sprung from maximum-security prisons with help from the CIA, the new A-Team is pursued once again by the military and “bad guys,” who are, of course, purported to be Arabs.
With producers Tony (Top Gun, True Romance) and Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Robin Hood) on board, the action scenes are big budget & high tech: things blow up real good. Stephen J. Cannell joins the Scott brothers as an A-Team producer and he makes sure the property is kept in order.
The new versions of the original characters are just fine. Bradley Cooper is way better than Dick Benedict; not only is his “Face” is far sexier, he has potential star power, something Benedict never had. Liam Neeson is slumming as “Hannibal” but then so was George Peppard. Call any comparison even-steven. The same is the case for Murdock, the “mad” flyer: Sharlto Copley is visually similar to Dwight Schultz and neither actor is allowed an opportunity to explore what it might be like to be a functional “crazy,” who has survived combat—barely.
The big problem here is that Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is no Mr. T. Yes, he’s OK as B.A. Baracus but this former mixed martial artist isn’t going to break out as a new pop phenom. And, quite frankly, neither is the film. The A-Team has some reasonably well constructed action scenes but nothing that will absolutely blow the socks off a thrill-seeking audience. And the plot—essentially the guys have to recover the counterfeit plates to restore their names—is nonsense. (In the end, it makes no difference whether they’ve succeeded or failed).
Is The A-Team worth the price of a ticket? Hey, if you love good, generic action films, you won’t go wrong. But if you’re looking for something truly funny or scary or sexy, don’t be surprised if what you’re seeing is The B-Team.