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Pity da fool who takes Mr. T’s role on ‘A-Team’

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire … the A-Team. Or at least, catch them on the big screen. That’s right. More than a quarter-century after their post-Super Bowl debut on NBC, the wronged military veterans are back. Sure, the setting has shifted — Hannibal Smith and his compatriots are now Iraq vets rather than Vietnam — but the pre
/ Source: TODAY contributor

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire … the A-Team. Or at least, catch them on the big screen.

That’s right. More than a quarter-century after their post-Super Bowl debut on NBC, the wronged military veterans are back. Sure, the setting has shifted — Hannibal Smith and his compatriots are now Iraq vets rather than Vietnam — but the premise is the same. Four men who were framed for a crime they didn’t commit look to clear their names, and they help others along the way.

It’s the latest nostalgic trip back to the 1980s, a time when “The A-Team” was considered by some to be too violent for television. Seems quaint in retrospect — if you go back and count how many people are killed or seriously injured, you can watch every episode in the series and not use all 10 fingers. But the show developed a devoted fan base, Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdock became household names, and its former viewers have fond memories that can now be exploited in a different format and to a different generation.

Will this movie measure up? The plot probably does — let’s be honest, the A-Team episodes all had holes big enough for Murdock to fly a helicopter through — but the characters may be a different story. But can the four new team members ever compare to the originals?

Liam Neeson as Hannibal

Neeson is the biggest name in the cast, which is fitting because he has the biggest shoes to fill.

The original actor in this role, George Peppard, made the first A-Team click, and his “I love it when a plan comes together” was the signature line of the series. Is it going to sound as good in an Irish accent? Maybe — Peppard was noted for the sheer number of accents he used when he was undercover, so in that sense this is a perfectly rational choice.

The genius of Hannibal, as played by Peppard, was that while he was always cracking a joke, he could turn deadly serious in an instant. That balance between kindly old uncle and guy who could kill you with his cufflinks is going to be key for Neeson, though I have to give him credit – the pictures of him talking while chomping on a stogie are very Peppard-esque. That’s a good sign.

Quenton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as B.A. Baracus

I pity the fool who takes on Mr. T’s old role! Except that in this case, the new actor may be even tougher than the ex-bodyguard who made this his signature role. Rampage Jackson makes Mr. T look like the “before” picture in a bodybuilding commercial.

B.A.’s job is to be tough, wear a Mohawk, hassle Murdock and be afraid of flying. Jackson has already shown he can handle the first two, and the latter don’t seem to require much in the way of acting chops. It’s a great chance for the former mixed martial-arts champion to make a positive first impression as an actor before a wide audience.

Mr. T. used “The A-Team” to become a major star, and went on to fame, fortune, and a cartoon series where he coached a gymnastics team that solved crimes (look it up). Jackson’s looking for history to repeat itself, so he can join Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as an actor who's capable of beating the snot out of any director who criticizes him.

Bradley Cooper as Face

If you were to take a poll asking which current Hollywood actor is the best fit to play the role of the deceptively tough pretty boy, Cooper would win in a landslide. He’s the most obvious casting decision here, and should wear the role well.

As played by Dirk Benedict on the TV show, Face was more snake-charmer than sniper. Flirting with the ladies came first and fighting second, and his words dripped with honey mixed with irony. Sure, one might wonder why a guy like this chose the armed forces in the first place, or how he fell onto a team with a crazed helicopter pilot and a Mohawked dude with enough gold chains to lasso a tank, but he was always fun to watch.

Cooper has Benedict’s devil-may-care manner on screen, and it’s easy to see him begging “not the face” when he gets into a fight. He should do fine.

Sharlto Copley as Murdock

In the original series, Murdock (Dwight Schultz) was the A-Team member who was captured the most often. Because of that, and because the authorities considered him to be insane, some episodes began with the rest of the gang breaking him out of the asylum. He also flew the helicopter, and antagonized B.A. Baracas, but most importantly, he was the comic relief.

It was a deceptively important role, given the rest of the cast. His craziness made Face’s ironic detachment and B.A.’s aggressive skepticism even funnier. Copley, the star of "District 9," has to match that energy to avoid being lost among his more high-profile castmates.

All four main actors can expect tons of criticism once the film is released. As always with a small screen to big screen transfer, fans of the TV show will claim nobody holds a candle to the original cast. 

But that fact alone has them buzzing about the movie, publicity that can't be bought. In that sense, the A-Team looks like another case where interest invested in the 1980s is paying big dividends today.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington.