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MOVIE REVIEW

The A-Team

A team not worth reassembling

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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As lifeless and unneeded as “The A-Team’’ is, it might have been worse. Bradley Cooper could have kept his shirt on. He plays a wanted Army Ranger named Face. But I’m sure he’d answer to Pecs, Teeth, or Fake Tan. Cooper spends a lot of the movie promoting the upside of a personal trainer and good dental work. He’s not completely interesting enough to be the upside of this remake of the mid-1980s TV show.

Like Chris Evans, Gerard Butler, and Ashton Kutcher, Cooper doesn’t take himself seriously enough for us to. He slides along the surface of his movies. Here he gets to flash his enormous grin while shooting from a tank as it plummets from the sky. That’s a stupid scene, and while ’tis the season for such nonsense, the excitement it’s meant to pass on to us is lost in a spree of terrible editing and a plot that not even your being the screenwriter could make you care about.

Face, Hannibal (Liam Neeson), B.A. (Quinton “Rampage’’ Jackson), and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) are Army Rangers caught up in a scheme to recover engraving plates for US money. They’re wrongly imprisoned but escape in a matter of scenes. Between tearing up a lot of German property and scores of shipping containers in the Port of Los Angeles, they attempt to exonerate themselves.

Jessica Biel is on hand as Face’s ex and an agent in pursuit of his crew. She’s convincing only when taking a mental swim in Cooper’s oceanic eyes. This is a movie that could have gotten away with making only a little bit of sense had it more superpowers or superstars. Neeson doesn’t quite count since he’s made the mistake of giving a performance. His speech about Gandhi made me well up for all the wrong reasons. The movie’s other roles are filled out by anonymous-looking men in suits and uniforms, one of whom is played by Patrick Wilson. Cooper’s participation obviates his. Having both men in one movie is a dreamy redundancy.

The director, Joe Carnahan — “Narc,’’ “Smokin’ Aces’’ — coasts on expensive-looking, sloppily executed action sequences that fall well short of standard kinetic mayhem. He could have supplied more exciting personnel to smooth past the checklist his movie is filling out. Jackson, a professional mixed-martial-artist, isn’t bad as a one-man wrecking crew who finds pacifism. And Copley, a South African who played the nincompoop cop in “District 9,’’ is amusing, but he might need an entire movie to explain himself to us. Cooper is going for the skilled shallows of Robert Downey Jr. But that just makes you miss the first hour of “Iron Man 2’’ all over again.

There’s an obvious risk for an established star to get involved with this mess: What if the mess is a hit? Would Leonardo DiCaprio or Jamie Foxx want to be obligated to do “A-Team 6’’? Carnahan wrote the script with Skip Woods and the actor Brian Bloom (who plays the sort of stock baddie that it often took Steven Seagal 90 minutes to kill). They’re not making a movie. They’re making a franchise. The individual installments no longer have to make sense. The last scene just has to wink (or smirk) toward a future episode — like a comic book or a television program.

When it was on NBC during the 1980s, “The A-Team’’ made the most of a mediocre situation. The show gave George Peppard a stage for his good looks and panache. He got to be tough, grizzled, and macho without appearing terribly bitter that a career spent yea close to achieving classic movie stardom in the 1950s and 1960s ended, more or less, on a program about Vietnam-war veterans betrayed into doing mercenary work. Peppard got on well with his fellow soldiers, a likable cast of relative unknowns — Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, Mr. T.

The show lasted for four seasons and made a cult item of Mr. T. But it was only loosely distinguishable from other so-so action-adventure-detective-military shows from that period — “Crazy Like a Fox,’’ “Simon & Simon,’’ “Manimal, ’’ “Airwolf,’’ “MacGyver,’’ “Stingray,’’ “Riptide,’’ The Fall Guy.’’ Are these memories we want to relive, even in jest? Judging from the poisonous response to the “MacGyver’’ spoof “MacGruber,’’ the answer appears to be no. As it is, once was too much.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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'A-Team'

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THE A-TEAM

Directed by: Joe Carnahan

Written by: Carnahan, Skip Woods, and Brian Bloom, based on the television series

Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Sharlto Copley, and Quinton “Rampage’’ Jackson

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 120 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and language throughout and smoking)

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