Directed by Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language
and smoking.
1 hr. 58 min.

If the A-Team looks like just another shiny, stupid, action-oriented summer blockbuster — it is. And here’s why you should still be excited about it:

After lingering in development hell for nearly a decade, and enlisting almost a dozen writers to polish off a final draft of the script, the rebooted film finally made it to theaters last weekend. It was then thoroughly torched by critics and ignored by audiences in favor of Jackie Chan’s unlikely juggernaut The Karate Kid. The prior weekend at the box office had been billed “the battle of the ’80s remakes,” and the Bradley Cooper actioner was the clear dud.

But what the film lacked in the brand-management and marketing departments (it is not the A-Team, it just uses the name and appropriates some of the signature lines), it makes up for in sheer bravado. By the time Liam Neeson and his hardy crew use a parachuting tank’s cannon to destroy pursuing predator drones while guiding the vehicle to a soft landing in a lake, you’ve sufficiently suspended disbelief and are waiting for the next spectacle.

Or put it this way: The tone of A-Team feels a lot like the first time you watch The Empire Strikes Back — if that entire classic had consisted of nothing but Han Solo weaving in and out of the asteroid field, evading a couple of star destroyers. Neeson (as Col. Hannibal Smith) plays a roguish Han Solo type to perfection, selling each ridiculous stunt sequence with such aplomb that the plot begins to fade from your mind and you just sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

Say what you will about the studio’s mismanagement of the potential new franchise, but it did do one critically important thing right: the casting. Rather than trying to duplicate the original A-Team by having the new actors mimic the originals’ inflections, it turned loose four veterans and let them do a fair number of hilarious off-the-cuff reactions (which salvage some of the more plot-intensive scenes).

We learn that Bradley Cooper (of Hangover fame) can actually act, Sharlto Copley (playing Murdock) is primed for a guest appearance in the next Adam Sandler flick after stealing numerous scenes, and “Rampage” Jackson apparently has a predisposition to nonviolence. And whether this is due to director Joe Carnahan’s abilities or to the talent involved, none of the large-scale action sequences devolves into Michael Bay-esque (Transformers) tedium.

The plot revolves around a single MacGuffin: the recovery of stolen treasury plates by a mercenary group affiliated with the CIA. Jessica Biel, who absurdly plays a high-ranking military officer, manages to muddle through and befriend the team in a moment of need. This simple plot — without an exhaustive “save the world” bent — allows more time to be spent hanging out at base camp with four actors who are clearly having a good time playing off each other.

It’s a pleasant surprise in a mostly stale (so far) summer season: a mindless action movie that can draw audiences by the performances and not the explosions.