Hannibal's List, Or: Liam Neeson Loves It When a Plan Comes Together

Finally some more casting talk about the long-planned A-Team movie: the producers are in talks with an actor who might play John “Hannibal” Smith. Oh, and they’re also thinking of casting Face with Bradley Cooper, aka “that guy you get on talk shows after somebody more famous cancels”:

Liam Neeson is in negotiations with 20th Century Fox to star in its long-gestating bigscreen adaptation of “The A-Team” as Col. John “Hannibal” Smith. Bradley Cooper is in early talks to play Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck in the Joe Carnahan-directed pic based on the 1980s TV series.

Neither of these parts are that hard to cast; George Peppard got the part after James Coburn turned it down, and Face was played by a different actor in the pilot (Tim Dunigan, who was dumped for being too young and callow to be convincing as a con man). Neeson does seem, offhand, a little low-key to play a character who is that crazy and reckless; you’ll remember that Hannibal’s main characteristic was his love of “the jazz,” meaning the thrill he got from risking his own life and the lives of his men. (That was what made the show different from other impossible-odds shows like Mission: Impossible — Hannibal’s plans were crazy and convoluted because he actually wanted them to have as much risk as possible of putting people’s lives in danger.) But he’s an actor; he can presumably go over the top if he needs to. The real question is whether a movie adaptation will dare to keep Hannibal’s trademark cigar; again, that’s part of the character — he takes unnecessary risks, including constant smoking — but I don’t think it will fly in a modern big-studio movie.

The A-Team is a good idea for a movie adaptation because it is a show with a genuinely memorable premise and characters that were never fully explored, due to the limitations of ’80s action television. (Storytelling limitations, in that nothing could ever be carried over from one episode to the next,  technical limitations, in that they just didn’t have the money to really do a show about globe-trotting soldiers of fortune, and censorship limitations, in that they couldn’t be nearly as crazy and violent as their characterizations suggested they were.) But I suspect that when they do make the movie they’ll wind up playing it too serious. The secret of The A-Team, that made it fun in spite of the flaws and limitations, was that it was a parody of action television, one that — like most of Canell’s successful shows — thumbed its nose at TV conventions even while it used them, and featured hilariously dysfunctional characters. The movie will probably play the whole thing straight, which will force them to iron out some of the dysfunctions — Hannibal can only be as crazy as he was in the original series if it’s played for laughs, because in a serious story, it would never be believable that his stupid plans would lead to successful results.

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