I pity the fool: Moviemakers mess with a hallowed tradition

By Jayson Jacoby June 18, 2010 08:44 am

Hollywood can plunder TV until the end of days for all I care, but when filmmakers taint the legacy of Mr. T. . . . well, every man has his breaking point.

And with the arrival on the big screen of “The A-Team,” my tolerance for the movie industry’s machinations has at last been exploded into jagged fragments.

Which, now that I think about it, was the inevitable fate that awaited the lair of every bunch of haplessly stumbling bullies whom the A-Team thwarted.

And there was at least one of those per episode.

You know the type of villains I mean.

They fired more ammunition in 40 minutes of broadcast time than a band of South American mercenaries goes through in a coup attempt, yet nobody ever suffered a bullet wound.

The rope they use to bind their captives was always as frayed as a storm-chaser’s wig, and the cell was inevitably a room equipped with a piggy bank-quality lock and a conveniently placed blowtorch.

I am, of course, referring to the destructive flair and escapability which were among the trademarks of the original A-Team.

The real A-Team.

The quartet that strutted across and bulldozed through and left an indelible image of machismo branded on millions television screens (none of them the flat LCD or plasma variety ubiquitous these days) during the epochal series’ 1983-87 run.

The A-Team of George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz and the aforementioned Mr. T.

(The latter of whom, by the way, belongs to that most exclusive club of actors: those who not only can stand erect while wearing a goodly portion of Fort Knox, but who can while so encumbered engage, and render unconscious using only his fists, half a dozen men wielding submachine guns.)

I am most certainly not talking about this pathetic cast of imitators currently fouling cineplexes across our great land.

No, I haven’t seen the film version.

I don’t need to see the film version.

I can tell just by perusing the cast that the movie is not merely inferior to the original — that would be disappointing but benign — but that it is in fact a malignancy which sullies the TV franchise’s status as an icon of pop culture.

(Pop culture of the lowest brow, I’ll admit, but still pop culture.)

And as I said, this just won’t do.

To be clear, I’m all for reviving The A-Team.

And doing so via a movie, rather than the small screen, intrigues me.

But I can’t excuse the hubris of the director Joe Carnahan and his assistants, who replaced not just one of the four original actors, but all four of them.

I’ll concede the absence of Peppard, who’s probably not up to the rigors of an action-filled script.

He is, after all, dead.

But I can’t imagine that Benedict (Face) or Schultz (Murdock) was too busy.

And I’m sure Mr. T — he was, and always will be, B.A. Baracus, except when he’s Clubber Lang and severely concussing Rocky Balboa — would have signed a contract for little above union scale.

The last I saw of him he was trying to frighten TV viewers into buying candy bars.

Which is no role for a man who once offered to take on not only Rocky but also Apollo Creed, and at the same time. I don’t care how many free Snickers they gave him.

My disdain for its infidelities notwithstanding, I suppose “The A-Team” movie will make decent money.

We’re still in the pre-summer doldrums, movie-wise, waiting for the latest installment in the “Twilight” series and the other seasonal blockbusters.

What else is a movie buff supposed to plunk down his money for?

“The Karate Kid?”

That, at least, reprises a movie rather than a beloved TV series.

It’s still a monstrous betrayal, though.

I could accept, if not endorse, a reappraisal that doesn’t include Pat Morita as Miyagi.

Like Peppard, Morita is permanently indisposed, beyond the reach of even the most persistent casting director.

William Zabka, however, is very much alive, and it’s beyond me how well-paid movie people could conclude that any other actor is worthy of donning Johnny’s black belt.

There’s no way I’m giving up two hours of my life to watch somebody else sweep the leg, I’ll tell you that.

And I shudder even to imagine the agony of seeing some lesser man try to maintain proper discipline at the Cobra Kai dojo in place of Martin Kove.

Do you think the punk with the middle-parted hair would yell “Get him a body bag!” if he were standing next to a different sensei?

Me neither.

As for Elisabeth Shue. . . . some things simply are too painful to be spoken of.

I’ll wager that the only convincing character in either of these ill-advised pictures is the car.

Replicating B.A. Baracus’ custom van is no great feat.

And with a copy of Hemmings and a fat expense account you could put together Miyagi’s fleet of classics in less time than it took Daniel to sand all those floors and paint all that fence.

The reconstituted General Lee, to name a third example of vehicular replication, was for me the only redeeming part of the “Dukes of Hazzard” movie.

I wanted to like that one. And I tried to, really.

I actually recognized most of the actors who tried to live up to the standards set by the original Dukes and their charmingly backwoods buddies.

I’m a Johnny Knoxville fan. When I saw “Jackass” in the theater I laughed so hard that Mountain Dew came out of my nose.

(It burns slightly, by the way, an effect apparently shared by at least one other lemon-lime sodas. At the premiere of the “South Park” movie my nasal expectorant of choice was 7-Up.)

But Knoxville is no Tom Wopat.

Knoxville lets baby alligators chew on his nipples, and I’m supposed to pretend he’s Luke Duke?

And Seann William Scott, who starred in a movie called “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is presented to us as a worthy pilot of the most famous Dodge Charger since that black one that chased Steve McQueen in “Bullitt?”

At least the makers of “Dukes” knew enough to bring out Daisy’s denim cutoffs for Jessica Simpson.

“The A-Team” crew not only stiffed Mr. T, but from what I’ve read his stand-in, who’s a mixed martial arts fighter, forgoes the gold chains, too.

Figures.

This guy would have lost both fights to Balboa, not just the climactic rematch.

And probably he’d have faked a pulled hammy to get out of the charity match with Thunderlips.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.