By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; WE26
"I love it when a plan comes together." Thus speaks Liam Neeson's squinty-eyed, attractively graying Hannibal Smith in "The A-Team," a thoroughly unnecessary but nonetheless satisfying adaptation of the cheeseball 1980s TV series.
Smith's catchphrase has to do with the harebrained scheme Neeson's Army Ranger and his "Alpha Team" routinely choreograph to save whatever day happens to be at hand. But it might as well apply to the movie itself, a project that has clearly been engineered to exploit baby boomers' nostalgia while it frantically courts the gnat-like attention spans of their grandsons.
Thus "The A-Team," which co-stars Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley, engages in the same blurry, incoherent close-up action to which young filmgoers have now become accustomed. Plenty of stuff blows up in between wisecracks, and Smith's explanations of what the audience is seeing -- exposition that is badly needed in a film this visually frenetic and breathlessly paced. During a preamble set in the Mexican desert, we meet the guys: the unflappable Smith, who from behind a haze of cigar smoke figures all the angles and inspires doe-like admiration in his men; Face, the blue-eyed ladies' man played by Cooper, whose chief job in the gang seems to be seducing women and assuming an ever-more-cocky air of bluff bravado; Murdock (Copley), the crazy-like-a-fox pilot who flies the dudes to safety in whatever whirlybird is parked nearby; and Bosco "B.A." Baracus, the Mohawked muscleman.
Of course Bosco was played by Mr. T in the series, and here Jackson pays homage to the original by dotting his dialogue with "fool" every few words or so. But in "The A-Team's" third act (or at least its first third act), he undergoes a conversion that promises to add surprising new depth to a character who became a caricature somewhere between Alf and Urkel as one of the '80s most enduring icons.
Luckily for fans who come to "The A-Team" for preposterously ballistic escapism, B.A. eventually reverts to form, and the movie duly proceeds to ever-more-risible lengths to up the action ante. In case watching a guy machine-gun his enemies from atop a tank floating through the sky on parachutes isn't enough, the filmmakers treat viewers to an elaborately staged climax at the Los Angeles piers, where stacks of shipping containers are thrown around like so many toy blocks.
Almost as an afterthought, Jessica Biel appears as one of Face's erstwhile love interests. But much more screen time is given to Patrick Wilson as a slippery CIA agent in league with an equally nefarious private contractor ("Assassins in polo shirts," Smith calls the mercenaries, who are clearly based on the boys of Blackwater). Between the electric baby-blues of Cooper and Wilson, the frequent sight of the men worshipfully assessing one another's Ranger tattoos, and a final-act cameo from a male heartthrob who seems to be engaging Cooper in a handsome-off, "The A-Team" might be selling itself as an action flick, but in its heart of hearts, it's just a hopeless bromantic.
** PG-13. At area theaters. Contains intense sequences of action and violence throughout, profanity and smoking. 117 minutes.