From the moment word first began to circulate many moons ago over the prospect of a big screen makeover for this eighties action/adventure serial, one issue dominated the discourse: 'Who is going to play the Mr. T role?' An odd question to which a series of ever-more exasperated studio execs tried (and failed) to counter with simple logic, stating: 'There is no Mr. T role. There is a character called B.A. Baracus.' Therein lies the problem for writer/director Joe Carnahan, who has proved no slouch in the big, silly action stakes with the surprise hit Smokin' Aces – how do you reinvent a property so anachronistic, and so clearly pre-defined in the eyes of the loyal fanbase you're hoping to fleece of their hard earned ticket money without alienating them? The answer, seemingly, was for Carnahan to cram as much iconography into the first fifteen minutes and then to simply stop trying.
Somewhat cleverly dispensing with the obligatory origin story right off the bat, Carnahan delivers a blistering opening capsule that covers B.A.'s comical love affair with his van, Face-man's gift for the gab, Murdock's ace piloting skills and slender grip on reality, and Hannibal's passion for cigars and fetish for strategy. He's even confident enough to throw in a few ideas of his own, such as B.A.'s swift descent from decorated Airborne Ranger to gibbering aeorphobe courtesy of one ten minute chopper ride with Murdock. But the pancaking of the team's iconic ride (possibly the least conspicuous vehicle in all of Los Angeles) is something of a marker. A symbolic middle-finger from a filmmaker who clearly has his own ideas in mind and does not wish to be anchored to some daft TV show from yester-year.
Updating events to the present day the team find themselves assigned a covert mission in Baghdad, at the behest of Patrick Wilson's rent-a-suit agency man, to recover a cache of stolen currency plates – which are promptly stolen, again, by a rogue paramilitary unit called Black Forest. Of course, this wouldn't be The A-Team if they weren't first 'sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit,' but the lip-service literally ends there. Cue a radical reinvention of the characters, a tired framed-men-on-the-run-to-clear-themselves plot device, and a labored script that seems intent on taking itself far too seriously, littered with jokes and at the same time devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor.
In what we can only assume was a misguided attempt to sketch four walking avatars into three-dimensional characters, Carnahan has tinkered to the point of making them unrecognizable. B.A. (which by-the-way used to stand for 'Bad Attitude') is painted as a born again pacifist, quoting Gandhi when he should be throwing fists. Face-man, whose entire character was specifically designed to avoid confrontation, is now somehow a hot-head, recklessly charging into a situation without ever assessing any of the angles. As for Hannibal, who always had the utmost respect for his team's respective gifts, he is saddled with a hectoring personality of permanent disapproval. Only Murdock rings familiar, with Sharlto Copley nailing both his whimsical personality and penchant for daft props. But without an appropriate B.A. to effectively wind-up his antics are really rather redundant.
All this isn't to say that Carnahan isn't quite obviously trying his damndest. The action sequences, and there are many, are suitably impressive, flamboyant and delicious popcorn-munching fun, even if they are a million miles away from the rough and tumble stunt work that defined the show. The cast, too, given the level of material, are uniformly excellent, with Bradley Cooper singling himself out as one to keep an eye out for. But why this level of obvious disdain for the franchise touchstones? Really, if in two hours of your A-Team movie you can't even find the time to show them building an armored tank out of a workshed filled with sheet metal and a forklift, then what the holy hell are you actually doing? Seriously.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRaney
Director: Joe Carnahan
Runtime: 117 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox