The fastest way to moviegoers' wallets is through their sense of nostalgia, and the big-screen A-Team gets all the character details of the notoriously violent '80s-era action series just right. Sadly, limp action sequences, bland villains, and a cliché-riddled screenplay prevent director/co-writer Joe Carnahan's plan from coming together.
Nostalgia in cinema isn't a bad thing as long as there's a certain level of quality control in play; when it's used as the means to an end, the mood can shift from fun to stale relatively fast. Such is the case in Carnahan's A-Team, a film that could have been cartoon anarchy along the lines of Charlie's Angels or Punisher: War Zone had the screenwriters Carnahan, Skip Woods, and Brian Bloom made a genuine effort to really play up the "they specialize in the ridiculous" angle touted so heavily in the trailers. What we get instead is a tired series of heavily edited, overly familiar action sequences (the one with the team member posing as a window washer, the big finale at the docks) separated by inert dialogue scenes in which the plot twists and the villains gloat.
Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson), Templeton "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson), and H.M. "Howlin' Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley) are a group of former Special Forces operatives who have been fighting the good fight for eight years when they're sentenced to military prison for a crime they didn't commit. Breaking out with relative ease, they embark on a treacherous quest to clear their names while being hunted across the globe by Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel), a high-ranking military officer and one of Face's many former lovers. Meanwhile, mysterious CIA operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson) offers tips that help point the federal fugitives in the right direction, which seems to lead straight to former military contractor Pike (Brian Bloom), who may have been responsible for setting them up in the first place. Just when it seems that the A-Team has all the evidence needed to prove their innocence, however, they discover that their latest mission is just getting started.
As fun as it is to watch Neeson, Cooper, Jackson, and Copley slip into the characters that kept fans of the original series tuning in week after week, even their devil-may-care chemistry can't save the rest of the flick from feeling woefully pedestrian. And by the time we start getting flashbacks to events that took place ten minutes prior, it's obvious that the man who kept us twisting on the hook with the brilliant Narc no longer trusts his audience to connect the dots -- even when they're fluorescent orange and numbered.
The A-Team is at its best when our four hapless heroes are bickering over how to fight their way out of a tight jam or just joking around, which makes the fact that little else in the film actually works all the more frustrating. Perhaps it's unfair to fault a movie based on a television series for not being original or inventive enough, but then again maybe that's why the vast majority of these feature adaptations so often leave us wanting more -- the folks behind them just aren't as creative as the ones who had the inspiration to dream up the initial concept. The cast of The A-Team is on fire; unfortunately the director and screenwriters douse their flame at every turn. If a sequel gets the green light and the producers are smart, they'll leave this fab four in place, and hire a director like Lexi Alexander to ensure that the action is as outrageous and unpredictable as the characters.