Come on, you remember how it goes -- a group of U.S. Special Forces Vietnam war veterans get framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Soon they become fugitive crime fighters, out to rid America of the bad guys one at a time, and as inventively as possible.
It was camper than a row of tents, The A-Team TV series of the 1980s; Boy George even starred in one episode. But that was then.
In 2010 all that campiness has been rooted out and replaced with (some might say) an even campier macho swagger. In the new A-Team movie, which opens nationwide this Friday, real men are never more than a foot away from a loaded gun, or more than a moment away from firing it.
If that’s your idea of fun -- and this movie is banking that it is -- then you’re going to love the new upgrade.
What’s amazing is how many genuinely accomplished actors are on board the second time around. First of all there’s the surprise of seeing Northern Ireland’s own Liam Neeson, whose many credits include the Oscar winning Schindler’s List and the recent box-office hit Taken, portraying Hannibal Smith, the master planner of missions, requiring split-second timing, unusual skills and a team of incredibly proficient soldiers.
Neeson’s joined onscreen by the hunky Bradley Cooper, who achieved stardom last year in the smash comedy The Hangover. Cooper plays Templeton “Face” Peck, who can procure anything for the team’s unorthodox and daring missions.
South Africa’s distinguished actor Sharlto Copley, who starred in last year’s hit District 9, plays “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock, a gifted pilot and a certified lunatic. That leaves Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who mostly just glowers in the role of B.A. Baracus, the team’s short-tempered driver who was so memorably played by Mr. T in the series.
So the gang’s all here, but whose idea was it to put them together for a new adventure? Well, that would be the movie’s Irish American director Joe Carnahan.
After his 2007 film movie Smokin’ Aces, he was looking for a project on this scale -- but maybe not this particular project, at least not at first.
“When I was a kid I was actually a huge Miami Vice fan. I wasn’t a big A-Team fan, although I did like the sort of cult of the show,” Carnahan tells the Irish Voice. “It was so pervasive, no matter where you went you saw it and Mr. T. So we wanted to be respectful of the series for the generation of fans who grew up with it, but we also wanted to take The A-Team into the 21st century.”
Initially Carnahan didn’t realize the scale or level of interest in the A-Team until the project was announced and fans began to comment. Then he realized he was dealing with a genuinely beloved series, one that came with an ardent and critical international fan base.
“It’s funny, my fiancée grew up in the U.K. where The A-Team was quite a phenomenon. She was a huge fan of the show growing up,” says Carnahan.
“In fact she got caught writing sordid things about Face, the character played by Dirk Benedict, in her private diary when she was 13. Her mother confiscated it and wrote ‘disgusting’ on every page.”
That kind of confession tipped Carnahan off to a simple fact. While he was obsessing over Miami Vice, millions of his peers found The A-Team far more fun and more life affirming.
“Even the most hardcore fans will tell you one thing. They remember the gadgets and the dress up really well,” says Carnahan.
“But no one remembers particular episodes really well. They remember all the camaraderie that those guys had together, the fun they had together, and that was the important part.”
Although his ancestors came to the U.S. in the 1800s, Carnahan has kept in touch with his own Irish background and has plans to visit Ireland this summer to learn as much as he can about his family background.
“My folks hail from Donegal. I don’t know many generations back, and from there they immigrated and ended up in Pennsylvania and Florida of all places,” he says.
“I am getting married to a Scottish Persian girl in July and I plan to visit Donegal later this summer. I’ll take the boat over from Scotland and I’m taking my dad with me. I know that it would be one of his great regrets if he didn’t see it. I’m really looking forward to us all going.”
To whet his appetite, Carnahan’s friend, the actor Jason Patric, who’s also of Irish descent, told him that the only authentic pint of Guinness is served in Ireland.
“I’ve been tortured by him. So around the fifth or sixth of July I’ll finally be traipsing around Ireland. I’m pretty excited about it,” Carnahan says.
Carnahan grew up in Michigan and then moved with his family to northern California when he was 13. Eventually he migrated to what he calls “the great salt lick” of Los Angeles in the late 1990s, where he began his directing career.
In the beginning as the production of The A-Team gained momentum and the script was fine-tuned, the filmmakers turned their attention to casting the team.
“There was a lot of debate about where to go with the casting. We all knew the most critical thing in terms of the film working would be the chemistry between the four leads,” says Carnahan.
“With regard to Liam Neeson, we all knew that Liam is a major dramatic actor. The minute you cast a guy like him you’re sending a message to the world at large that this is going to be a specific kind of movie.
“We’re choosing to step away from the more campy aspects of the TV show. But you never want to go in and start gutting people’s childhood memories. There are things about the show that I knew would be important and we’ve kept them in.”
Opting for a more realistic tone without trashing the lineage of the film was a tightrope walk.
“I wanted Liam to have the white hair his character is supposed to. I wanted B.A. Baracus to have the Mohawk, and I wanted to use the original catch phrases,” he says.
“We held on to a lot of them. We even used pop music as they’re building the devices that will save the day (just like in the original show). “
But Carnahan has wisely resisted the temptation to craft a movie for the film’s most die-hard fans.
“When you set out to appease the fan boys it’s always a dead end. And listen, their lobby isn’t big enough to warrant the attention, you know what I mean?
“Making a movie is like raising a kid. You teach him to walk, you teach him to talk, you give him some money for bus fare and by the end you just want to kick him in the ass to get him out the front door.”