'A-Team' worthy of D, for chaotic descent
Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox, The A-Team stars (from left to right) Bradley Cooper as Face , Sharlto Copley as Murdock, Liam Neeson as Hannibal and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A. Baracus.

If you watched television in the 1980s, then you probably remember "The A-Team," the NBC series that ran from 1983 to 1987. Even if you didn't tune in for the weekly escapades of this fugitive team of ex-military operatives, you undoubtedly recall the series' distinctive theme music and Mr. T's trendsetting mohawk. It's that familiarity, no matter how small, that the studio hopes will lure audiences into the theaters. When will they ever learn?

The premise is essentially the same in the 2010 version; framed for a crime they didn't commit, the four war veterans (Iraq, as opposed to Vietnam) are fugitives out to clear their names. But the film also acts as a prequel to the series, using its first act to reintroduce the characters and demonstrate the team's ability to accomplish any mission with little more than a pile of junk parts and a plan.

The man behind every meticulous plan is Hannibal, played with cigar-chomping bravado by Liam Neeson. Face (as in Faceman) is the smarmy ladies man of the bunch, a role Bradley Cooper plays with unsettling ease. B.A. Baracus still sports a mohawk, this time atop the head of actor and Ultimate Fighting Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who carries enough muscle for the part, but mumbles through most of his lines (except for "fool," of course). Rounding out the team is Murdock (Sharlto Copley, in his first major role since his surprising performance in last year's "District 9"), the certifiably insane pilot who delivers the few funny lines in this otherwise humorless action spinoff.

Director Joe Carnahan, who also co-wrote the script with Brian Bloom and Skip Woods, indulges in excess at every turn. His frantic hand-held camera and rapid-fire edits make the already outlandish action scenes (and there are many) thoroughly confusing. The same goes for the dialogue, a stream of directionless jabber attempting to disguise itself as witty banter. The result is a costly, chaotic mess.

So what is the terrible crime of which the A-Teamers are falsely accused? While in Iraq, they are sent on a mission to retrieve a set of engraving plates used to counterfeit endless supplies of U.S. currency. Just when they think yet another plan has come together, they are attacked and the plates are stolen. We know a man named Pike (Brian Bloom) is one of the culprits, especially considering his affiliation with the shadowy contracting firm Blackforest. But everyone else, including Face's bitter ex-girlfriend Sosa (Jessica Biel), who's also some sort of investigator for the Department of Defense, thinks the A-Team was behind it.

In keeping with the TV show (and likely aiming for a PG-13 rating), "The A-Team" is big on bullets, low on bloodshed. There's even a subplot that has Baracus embracing nonviolence after reading about Gandhi in prison. But don't kid yourself into thinking Hollywood has finally made a kinder, gentler action movie. It's only when he allows himself to kill again that we reach the happy ending.

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