GENRE: '80s action flashback
THE PITCH: Four U.S. Army Rangers — Hannibal (Liam Neeson), Face (Bradley Cooper), Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and Murdock (District 9's Sharlto Copley) — who specialize in outlandish operations clear their names after being set up for murder and the theft of plates to make counterfeit $100 bills. Imagine a film that falls exactly between Mission: Impossible and MacGruber.
MONEY SHOTS: A blow from Baracus sends a martial artist flying into a wall. Face pops out of a manhole and clamps to the underside of a truck thanks to a powerful magnet. Baracus repels at high speeds down the side of a building. The team plays a giant version of three-card monte with cranes and shipping containers. A collapsing cargo ship provides a memorable spectacle despite some fakey CGI.
BEST LINES: "They're trying to fly the tank," sighs Lt. Sosa (Jessica Biel, who has the thankless role as Face's old flame and the team's pursuer.)
WORST LINES: "We think he's the deep dark, the hidden hand in all this," one character intones about a mysterious Arab.
BODY COUNT: In keeping with the nonlethal mayhem of the show, the kills prove implicit amid the massive, fiery explosions. Technically, you only glimpse one or two dead bodies.
FOOL COUNT: Effectively emulating Mr. T, Jackson uses the word "fool" an even dozen times. He also has the word "pity" tattooed on one fist and "fool" on the other, begging the question of where "the" is tattooed. Maybe I don't want to know.
FASHION STATEMENT: Baracus rejects his Mohawk as a sign of his newly found pacifism. Cooper spends most of the film suntanned and shirtless. Murdock sports a red cap and Hawaiian shirts. Neeson's gray haircut proves surprisingly close to the 'do of George Peppard, the original Hannibal.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: At one point, "Anarchy in the U.K. (Guitar Hero Version)" accompanies some of Murdock's madcap antics. You'll leave the theater with opening notes of "The A-Team" theme song stuck in your head.
INSIDE JOKES: Stay through the closing credits if you want to see some "A-Team" veterans pass the torch to the new guys. One of TV's hottest actors has a WTF walk-on as a potential villain in a sequel. Copley winks at his South African heritage and does a funny Mel Gibson impression. Director Joe Carnahan tweaks Hollywood's obsession with 3-D with a scene in a mental institution.
BETTER THAN THE SHOW? I can't claim to be an "A-Team" expert, but this dumb, flashy, energetic film feels like an appropriate adaptation of the original TV series. If you miss the original actors, you'll be compensated by big-budget, CGI-enhanced explosions.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Narc director Joe Carnahan frequently favors a fast pace and macho swagger instead of narrative coherence, but gives the film enough high-spirited invention to make The A-Team far more entertaining than the average Michael Bay ear-splitter. Neeson's performance lends a little class, Copley provides comic relief and Cooper seems destined to be the Dirk Benedict of his generation.
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