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‘A-Team’ stars dial down the camp for film remake

USA Today
Published: October 6, 2010

VENICE, Calif. — It’s hard to miss the new A-Team when the gang walks into a room.

Liam Neeson leads, tall at 6-4 and the softest-spoken of the bunch. Bradley Cooper, the lothario of The Hangover and no slouch at 6-1, saunters behind Neeson and flops into a chair. He’s followed by mixed martial arts champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, a bull of a man who drops on a loveseat, challenging its coils and capacity. Finally, Sharlto Copley, the bureaucrat-turned-renegade from District 9, strolls in, grinning at the squad assembled.

If nothing else, the new A-Team, in theaters Friday, has the ’80s crew matched for machismo.

But don’t look for much beyond a few nods to the iconic series, which followed four Vietnam veterans who become vigilantes after being framed for a crime. The show, which ran from 1983 to 1987, featured George Peppard, Dirk Benedict and, of course, Mr. T, whose Mohawk hairstyle manages a cameo.

Deep down, though, A-Team owes more of its genetic coding to modern action hits such as Transformers and G.I. Joe than its namesake. But that was the point of taking ’80s camp and bringing it into the 21st century, director Joe Carnahan says.

“You have to walk that very fine line of honoring the show, but still making it enjoyable for kids today, some of whom don’t know the show,” he says.

Carnahan makes a quick confession. “I was more of a Miami Viceman,” he says. “But that’s not a bad thing. I think it helps to bring an outsider’s eye to the film. You can’t be slavish to the TV show.”

Slavish, A-Team isn’t. Though there are a few iconic shots — Mr. T’s van, the theme song, Hannibal Smith’s cigar (though Neeson had given up smoking) —A-Team is summer pyrotechnics through and through.

That was a draw for Neeson, who finds himself an action hero after the surprise success of last year’s thriller Taken, which made $145 million.

“I was too old to be a big fan of the show, but it’s great to have these worlds suddenly opened up,” says Neeson, 58. “I’m flexing muscles I never knew I had.”

Though Neeson may have not been a fan, Cooper, Jackson and Copley grew up on it. Jackson says he nearly died watching it.

“I must have been 5, and I swallowed a screw while we were watching the show,” Jackson says. “I remember this big paw coming into my mouth to take out the screw — once the commercial came on. Dad was a pretty big fan.”

So was Copley, who was so rabid that he formed his own A-Team when he was 10, growing up in Johannesburg.

“There was another group that wanted to be the A-Team, so I fought their leader,” Copley says. “I beat him, so we got to be the A-Team that year. Now I’m in it. It’s too weird.”

Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) says that while he wasn’t concerned with recalling the trappings of the show, he was drawn to the foursome’s quick rapport.

“The show, the movie, it’s about camaraderie,” he says. “All the other stuff is dated. If you can capture that camaraderie, you’ve done the film right.”

© 2012 USA Today| Written by Scott Bowles | No copyright infringment intended.