The A-Team, a testosterone-on-steroids big-screen blow-up of the popular schlock commando TV series of the mid-1980s, was not — repeat, not — produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Yet the picture might almost have been designed to make the Bruckheim-meister jealous. It’s arguable that he has never produced a movie that’s this jam-packed with bluster and noise, hurtling metal, preposterous hair-breadth escapes, eyeball-filling explosions, snark-under-pressure one-liners, and so-gung-ho-it’s-almost-nostalgic American ass-kickery.
The movie introduces its characters with witty comic-book touches, like slow-mo shots that reveal how the Mohawked B.A. Baracus (Quinton ”Rampage” Jackson) has ”Pity” and ”Fool” tattooed on his fists (he never actually says the words). For the next two hours, The A-Team rockets forward on little bits like that. The director, the cheerfully shameless and undeniably talented Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces), works hard for the money. One of Carnahan’s favorite tricks is to stage an elaborate chain reaction of an action sequence, the sort of thing that would have been a major piece of overkill in a movie like Con Air, and treat it as just one more casual movie moment — another sandwiched-in, throwaway thrill in a film that’s addicted to them. When Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), the jaunty, cigar-chomping leader of the A-Team, plots out an operation to recapture a collection of top-secret American-currency printing plates that have been smuggled out of Iraq, the movie cross-cuts between two things: his explanation of the plan, complete with little models on a game board, and the actual carrying out of it — a speeding-truck chase sequence full of perfectly timed wisecracks and firepower. That overlap between planning and execution lends the sequence a breathless, leaping-forward quality, and that’s what the whole movie has. That’s the fun of The A-Team, and its limitation, too. The movie is such a relentless action windup toy that it’s never about anything but its own high-megaton ingenuity.
On TV, The A-Team was like The Dirty Dozen made prime-time clean, and the movie preserves that basic hero/outlaw go-USA wholesomeness, but crazies it up a little. The team itself, a squad of U.S. Army special-ops soldiers who are found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit and carry on anyway as good-guy renegades, are entirely one-dimensional characters, but they still pop on screen. Liam Neeson has reinvented himself as an action star, and he’s a natural at it: loose, funny, and physically imperious, a middle-aged bruiser who always looks like he’s enjoying himself immensely. Bradley Cooper, as Face, the group’s hotshot and lothario, has some fast, funny lines (as when he impersonates a British reporter to filch a TV babe’s ID card), but he grins so smugly that he looks like he’s just seen the grosses of The Hangover. Quinton Jackson, as B.A., is stuck updating an iconic yet anachronistic character (Mr. T played him like an angry action figure), and he’s a little innocuous, if likably quick. Sharlto Copley, the star of District 9, completes the quartet as the manic, meshugana Murdock; he’s like the missing unhinged Wilson brother, and very amusing when he impersonates Mel Gibson in Braveheart or breaks into perfect Swahili to talk his way past a customs gate.
The team tangles with a whole welter of antagonists and authority figures: Patrick Wilson as a CIA stooge; Jessica Biel as a frowning Defense Department officer who’s still in love with Face, her former flame; the excellent Brian Bloom as a mercenary gone very, very bad. The movie itself just keeps whizzing by — it’s entertainment on hyperdrive. Carnahan is obsessed with action logistics: dogfights and fistfights, last-minute rescues by missile attack, bullets fired through skyscraper windows at the exact right moment, the insane image of a tank plummeting to earth while dangling from a parachute. At times, it can all grow wearying, but Carnahan works in a way that’s much lighter than, say, Tony Scott. He really does see blowing stuff up as the ultimate extension of playing with toys. After all its tossed-off climaxes, The A-Team finally finishes with a real climax in which piles and piles of colorful storage compartments get blown up as a ”diversionary” activity. But who’s kidding whom? The whole movie is a diversionary activity. It’s trash so compacted it glows. B+