ON THE SET
Hero Complex commando Chris Lee visited the set of “The A-Team” in Canada last month and writes that the Fox summer film might be of a different caliber than fans might expect.
Liam Neeson’s character, Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, leader of the fun-loving crew of mercenary brigands, utters the late George Peppard’s signature line from the show: “I love it when a plan comes together!” And Bradley Cooper (in the playboy mercenary role of Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck made famous by Dirk Benedict ) looks at former UFC champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s B.A. Baracus character (Mr. T’s scowling dramatic creation) and remarks, “You look like you have a real bad attitude.”
But in movie promotions, as with blind dates, first impressions can be deceiving.
On the movie’s Vancouver set last month, writer-director Joe Carnahan (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Narc”) explained “The A-Team” film is hardly a by-the-book big-screen rendering of the series. Where the original Alpha Unit was a squad of disgraced Vietnam war vets, the new team is made up of covert operatives who ran missions during the most recent Iraq war and get hung out to dry for crimes they didn’t commit.
According to the director, this adaptation is more in the spirit of Christopher Nolan’s Batman update than, say, Will Ferrell’s dumbed-down version of “Land of the Lost” or Ben Stiller’s comedy-arrested “Starsky and Hutch.” “I’m not interested in making the easy, breezy Cover Girl version of ‘The A-Team,’” Carnahan said.
Although the project had been gestating with various directors – most notably John Singleton — for almost a decade, Carnahan threw out all the previous scripts and redrafted the action to kick off during the impending American troop withdrawal from the Middle East.
“I thought they were too slavishly devoted to the TV show,” Carnahan said of past script adaptations. “While I like the TV show, I didn’t think it was any great shakes in terms of heavy drama. You could take that story and have it translate into the present day with more success.”
Exhibit A: Gone are B.A.’s thick coil of gold necklaces and habit of exclaiming “I pity the fool!” In character on-set, however, Jackson conspicuously sported temporary tattoos across his knuckles that read “P-I-T-Y” on the right hand and “F-O-O-L” on the left.
Sharlto Copley’s “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock character had been similarly updated for modern audiences.
“People are a lot more keen and savvy. If you tried to put that show out today, you wouldn’t get away with what they got away with,” the director continued. “I mean, Murdoch for what passed as crazy 25 years ago? It doesn’t hold up. Nowadays, you have Steve-O on ‘Jackass’ strapping on a g-string made out of chicken parts and rapelling over an alligator pit. So you have to reevaluate things like ‘crazy.’”
Carnahan glanced out at the four principal cast members, dressed in full military regalia for their dishonorable discharge scene.
“We’re not making an homage to ‘The A-Team,’” he said. “We’re taking the base story of four guys wrongfully convicted of a crime, they’re an Alpha Unit, that’s it. That’s the point of departure.”
— Chris Lee
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Photos: From top, “The A-Team” cast in action, from left Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley, Liam Neeson, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Credit Doug Curran/Fox; “The A-Team,” 20th century version, clockwise from left Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, Mr. T and George Peppard. Credit: Los Angeles Times