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The ‘A-Team’ Plan Comes Together

Now that Hollywood has exhausted most of the best-known ’70s TV series, directors like Joe Carnahan, 41, can sink their teeth into big-screen adaptations of the shows they grew up with – in this case, Stephen Cannell and Frank Lupo’s family-friendly ’80s fantasy about a team of noble vigilantes-for-hire, framed for robbing a Hanoi bank during the Vietnam War.

Baghdad replaces Hanoi in Carnahan’s flashy update, which finds the fighting foursome wrongfully blamed for stealing U.S. Treasury minting plates, but little else has changed.

The team is once again led with a wink and a thick puff of cigar smoke by Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson); Bradley Cooper is a comfortable fit, in looks and devil-may-care temperament, as “Face,” the group’s resident Romeo; Sharlto Copley (District 9) strikes an appropriately lunatic pose as ace pilot Murdock; and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (so tough he’s got a real-life nickname) fills in for Mr. T as one-man wrecking crew B.A. Baracus.

The TV series, which rarely treated its capers as anything more than a premise for men-will-be-boys humor, made Mr. T a household name, but Carnahan’s A-Team won’t do the same for Ultimate Fighting star Jackson. That’s not really a knock on his performance – he pities fools with sufficient gusto – but the role merely calls for a passable homage, and that’s what it gets.

Yet there’s something pleasantly laughable about the offbeat chemistry he shares with his co-stars. The A-Team was always about a couple of odd couples thrust into a combustible mix, usually under the auspices of a plan that made no sense to begin with. To expect more now would be asking too much.

The plot, in as many words as it deserves: The boys bust out of prison to find those pesky minting plates and the men who set the team up. Heads roll. Things blow up. Cooper bares his formidable six-pack, and Jessica Biel, after some initial resistance, swoons.

What distinguishes The A-Team from lesser TV retreads is a script, co-written by Carnahan, that keeps things moving and is bright enough to earn some well-timed laughs. Sure, the plot has holes big enough to drive B.A.’s GMC van through, but why sweat the small stuff?

If anything, Carnahan’s biggest sin is his visual style. His reliance on rapid, quick-cut close-ups and dark, grainy images is disconcerting – the action is needlessly hard to follow, and the whole movie seems shrouded in shadow. In retrospect, Carnahan the director might have learned a valuable lesson from Carnahan the screenwriter: Lighten up.