Early in the breathtakingly unnecessary The A-Team, remade from the iconic & not especially good '80s television series, Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) hears the name of a hated rival with CIA ties, and derides the man's lack of subtlety when it comes to matters of espionage: "He's a caricature." At this moment, a chill went up the backs of the pot and the kettle, knowing that they would never be able to match the depth and richness of the hypocrisy that had just been laid upon the world, and their eternal quest to determine each other's blackness was finally laid silent not in compromise, but in humility.

Obviously, it would take a huge idiot to expect deep, complex characters of The A-Team, so I probably oughtn't harp on that; still, it came as a bit of a surprise that in a movie rich with huge flaws, the biggest problem would be the lead characters and the performances thereof. The TV series made no bones at all about presenting its four heroes as nuance-free archetypes, yet to a certain degree it worked, partially thanks to the nature of television itself (you spend every week with a group of people, you start to understand their shadings), partially thanks to four fairly game actors who brought some real life and energy to the proceedings. The movie has none of that, starting with Neeson, who plays Hannibal, a super-smart puppetmaster who always plays three moves ahead of his opponent, in the most tired, perfunctory way that he possibly could. And there's still a basement to how bad that can be, because Liam Neeson is still Liam Neeson; but he is absolutely and unmistakable "doing a Liam Neeson" here, and if that's the only thing you want, then rent Taken, where he does it a hell of a lot better.

Even so, he's readily the best of the big four: Bradley Cooper, as the wisecracking horndog Lt. "Faceman" Peck, continues to exude a smugness that casting directors persist in mistaking for charisma without bringing anything else to the table; Sharlto Copley, appearing for the first time since breaking out in District 9 last summer, as the clinically insane pilot Murdock, indulges in all the character's most superficial traits in the most grating way imaginable, while dropping his accent all over the damn place; lastly, UFC fighter Quinton Jackson takes Worst In Show honors for the complete hatchet job he makes of B.A. Baracus, the character made a television icon by Mr. T back in the day, slurring every single line of dialogue that comes his way, while constantly wearing a slightly befuddled expression that makes it clear that he doesn't exactly understand what movie acting entails.

Put together, these four men make up one of the least-convincing elite units that you might ever hope to see, gelling together not one tiny bit despite a very eager script by director Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, and Skip Woods, which keeps shoveling in moments that allegedly suggest the easygoing camaraderie between the guys. Instead, it suggests that the guys have spent eight years together in stilted silence. "Hey, remember how B.A. doesn't like to fly? Yeah, that sure is something about him. Heh, heh! What a card, that B.A."

As far as the story goes, the film hews as closely to the series as possible while ignoring it in virtually every particular. Beginning in Mexico, in 2002 (the dates are never spelled right out, but it's easy enough to follow along if you pay attention), Hannibal and Face meet B.A. and Murdock while putting the kibosh on a local crime lord. The four men, all Army Rangers, quickly become one of the finest military teams out there, using their wonderful blend of caper-style strategy and fighting prowess to shut down the enemies of America wherever they are found. So a title card tells us. We meet them again eight years later, during the final American pull-out from Iraq (making The A-Team a fantasy), when a CIA agent with the fake name "Lynch" (Patrick Wilson) tells them about a whole mess of printing plates that will allow the bad Iraqis to make a whole bunch of illegal U.S. currency and destablise our economy. With a wink-wink approval from General Morrison (Gerald McRaney), and over the objections of the prissy Cpt. Sosa (Jessica Biel)c, the A-Team rather effortlessly retakes the plates, but then they're betrayed by the wicked private sector sp00ks known as Black Forest, led by the wicked Pike (co-writer Bloom, who hopefully learned a good lesson about how not to write dialogue when he found himself forced to say it out loud). In no time flat, our boys are discharged and imprisoned, and must concoct a magnificent plan to stop Pike and his anonymous Arab friend, recover the plates and clear their name.

This is only marginally like the show, in which they were soldiers of fortune wanted by the military, who did good deeds and saved the day. In fact, this is exactly where the film leaves off, a fact which the filmmakers call attention to by quoting the show's opening narration leading in to the closing credits. But let's take it on its own: four men who we don't care about running around and doing caper movie shit to stop evil people from making illegal money. This involves a great deal of shit blowing up, naturally, and an even greater number of quippy comments from everyone involved, ranging from the tolerable ("they're trying to fly the tank") to the grotesque ("It's just like Call of Duty!" exclaims Lynch at one point, as though we needed a cue that he was a douche beyond the fact that he is played by Patrick Wilson).

On the whole, the plot functions as it must, a system to move from one setpiece to another, with a maximum number of character moments [sic]. Truth be told, it's not the most unenjoyable thing in the world: at the very least, it suffers from not a single plot hole that I could spot. But this kind of journey is only as good as the stops along the way, and The A-Team really isn't a very good action movie: as produced by Tony Scott, it seems quite plain that Carnahan wanted to ape that man's style wherever possible, but while Tony Scott knows how to make a good Tony Scott movie (which is only incidentally the same as a good movie generally), Carnahan hasn't even been able to make good Joe Carnahan movies in the past, and the stylistic whorls that are sometimes fascinating and bracing in a Scott picture are just awful here. Mostly. Parts work: the whole of the Mexico sequence is actually pretty damn good, and the conception of the grand finale is quite delightfully big, even though the execution leaves absolutely everything to be desired. Carnahan leans heavily on a single trick, in which Hannibal explains the details of his multi-layered capers using a big map and little models, intercut with the actual event as it plays out. This is okay once, but as it keeps happening and happening, it leaves the action sequences themselves unbearably thin choppy and anemic.

Nor does Carnahan help matters with his grander aesthetic choices, which include stealing as much as he possibly can from Paul Greengrass's Jason Bourne playbook without knowing why, exactly, Greengrass can make handheld and lots of cutting work. Most of the scenes in The A-Team, even the dialogue-driven ones, are edited so brutally that it's next to impossible to follow along with whatever the hell is meant to be happening; and the tremendously awful sound mix just makes things worse, given that anytime someone speaks while anything else is happening, that other thing will invariably drown out the dialogue (and given how badly Jackson, Copley and Cooper under-enunciate, it quickly hits a point where only random words stand out in a field of high-decibel mumbling). It's a stupidly clamorous action movie, and all the clamor in the world doesn't equal the thrill of one well-timed stunt that you can actually follow from start to finish without getting a screaming migraine.

Noisy, ugly (Mauro Fiore's first post-Oscar film as cinematographer, it's overwhelmingly and unpleasantly gold), and committed to an ideal of male comradeship through violence that never takes hold, thanks to the hopelessly unconvincing performances and characters - though it does mean we get to enjoy the gaudy spectacle of Liam Neeson using Gandhi as an argument against pacifism - The A-Team is no damn fun at all, just another "fight for the government WHOOPS now fight against the government" action thriller that doesn't even offer good explosions as recompense for its reedy story. It strives to be fun, but it comes across as blowsy and pathetic; unpleasantly bland even by the standards of mediocre popcorn action, it's the perfect franchise non-starter for a summer that has consistently performed under-par to date.