'Overkill is underrated," harrumphs stogie-smackin' Col. Hannibal Smith during one of the endless let's-blow-stuff-up moments in The A-Team. And while that's certainly the philosophy Hannibal and his trio of ex-Army Ranger cowboys espouse, this long, loud adaptation of the '80s TV series belies the motto.
Overkill, in fact, is overrated. By the time The A-Team careens and crashes around the world (Baghdad! Mannheim! Sonora!) to end with a slam-bang send-off in the dockyards of Los Angeles, the movie - slickly directed by Smokin' Aces maestro Joe Carnahan - feels like the cinematic equivalent of the BP disaster in the gulf: It's a big-screen oil spill, a needless gushing of macho bluster and wild set pieces, and a waste of millions and millions of dollars.
Liam Neeson, whose action-hero cred solidified with the 2008 sleeper Taken, plays Hannibal with not altogether convincing bravado. Alternately grinning and grimacing, he and his guys (Bradley Cooper is Face, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is B.A., District 9's Sharlto Copley is the nut ball Murdock) fly helicopters upside-down, drop from the sky in an armored tank, hijack convoys, and break out of federal pens.
And about those prison escapes: The A-Teamers (the A is for alpha) have been set up, maybe by the CIA, and they're out to clear their names. It's the same premise that got this spring's The Losers going - only The A-Team has more money to burn.
Stephen J. Cannell nostalgists, no doubt, will appreciate the knowing salutes to the once-ubiquitous producer's original show: The black and beloved GMC van makes a (short-lived) appearance, and while B.A. Baracus - the Mohawked muscle of the group, played by Mr. T back in the day - never growls, "I pity the fool," Jackson's knuckles are tattooed with PITY and FOOL.
Jessica Biel, radiating military hotness, shows up in uniform and out - she's an Army intel officer - spouting Shakespearean lines like "It looks like they're heading for the tarmac!" as she and her crew chase Hannibal and company. (Her Capt. Sosa and Cooper's Face had a thing going for a while, so there's putative frisson, too - and a discussion about who kept the Steely Dan CD.)
And in case we didn't get the point during the nearly 25-minute opening-credits prologue, Sosa has this to opine about Team A: "They're the best clandestine unit in the four branches. And they specialize in the ridiculous."
The A-Team is really no better or worse than a whole bunch of other steroid studio-built extravaganzas, but the cumulative effect of these stunts-aplenty window-crashing-fireball-exploding-freeway-chasing-rocket-launching shoot-outs is numbing.
By the time The A-Team's fourth (or fifth?) extravagantly plotted and outrageously executed rescue mission, or escape mission, or MacGuffin-nabbing mission is done with, it's just about impossible to care.