(CNN) -- With a choice between "The Karate Kid" and "The A-Team," your local multiplex takes on a distinctly Reaganite vibe this weekend; empowerment fantasies for the whole family. (Well, maybe not Mom -- unless she can find the new Joan Rivers documentary playing somewhere.)
Definitely not a remake, as director Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces") keeps insisting, "The A-Team" movie is the story of four wrongly convicted U.S. Special Forces Rangers taking it to the bad guys. There's Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), the leader and chief strategist; Templeton "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper), a good-looking charmer with an eye for the ladies; HM "Howlin' Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley), a pilot who is also certifiably insane; and BA Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson), a pillar of strength, an African-American with a mohawk and a mortal fear of flying.
Nothing vastly original so far, but at least Carnahan has updated the theater of war: The TV series' Vietnam vets now come with Desert Storm credentials.
Confusingly, the movie begins south of the border in Mexico, where one of Murdock's scrapes brings the four together in a bullet-spewing, rocket-blazing run-in with a corrupt generalissimo -- the action movie's version of a meet-cute.
Several years later the quartet is back on active duty in Iraq, mounting a covert op to seize currency plates Saddam Hussein has been using to print U.S. banknotes. When this scheme goes awry, Hannibal and his honchos wind up behind bars, by which time we are given to understand their moral superiority to the heavily implicated "Black Forest" private security firm, a mercenary outfit obviously modeled on Blackwater.
But bad as the Black Forest "thugs" are, as in last month's soldiers-of-misfortune flick, "The Losers," the real heavy is working for the CIA.
It's not much of a plot, and Carnahan makes minimal effort to give it any kind of credence. Did I mention Jessica Biel is in this, too?You need to know this, but someone might also have tipped off the screenwriters, who seem to have been caught completely unawares.
The movie is a mess, a randomized string of splashy, death-defying set pieces interspersed with unfunny quips and globe-trotting antics (shot in Canada). In the most imaginative stunt, the A-Team flies a tank 2,500 feet over Germany. In another, the port of Los Angeles goes up like Pearl Harbor. When it comes to the fireworks, Carnahan lays it on good and thick.
This is mindless, all right, but is it entertainment?
The target audience is so wide these days, a splatter gun may be the best guarantee of a hit. Take away the heavy artillery though, and there isn't much to suggest why "The A-Team" deserves the blockbuster treatment while "MacGuyver" merited "MacGruber."
Come to think of it, "MacGruber" has the better cast: Liam Neeson can chomp on a cigar as well as George Peppard ever did, but he's not exactly blowing smoke rings. Sharlto Copley (from "District 9") mostly signals Murdock's lunatic tendencies by letting his accent roam freely over the British Commonwealth, and Rampage Jackson never threatens to supplant Mr. T in the memory.
Only Bradley Cooper seems to be enjoying himself in an appropriately cavalier movie star manner.
For the rest, "The A-Team" gets a C+. Must try harder.