Director : Sylvain White
Screenplay : Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt (based on the comic book series by Andy Diggle)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Clay), Zoe Saldana (Aisha), Chris Evans (Jensen), Idris Elba (Roque), Columbus Short (Pooch), Óscar Jaenada (Cougar), Jason Patric (Max), Holt McCallany (Wade), Peter Macdissi (Vikram), Peter Francis James (Fadhil), Tanee McCall (Jolene)
The best thing The Losers has going for it is its utter and complete lack of pretension. Based on a DC comic book series of the same title, it offers plenty of hyperkinetic violence whose purposeful lack of bloody verisimilitude both ensures a PG-13 rating despite massive levels of carnage and reminds us of the story’s origins in a more straight-forward cartoon universe, as opposed to something complex and messy and potentially off-putting like Kick-Ass. In many ways, The Losers is a deliriously fun ride, ridiculous in its story points and stunts, but also clever in the way it generally eschews the aesthetic overkill that tends to define most action movies these days in favor of something more simple and direct.
The story opens in Bolivia, where we are introduced to the titular quintet of Special Ops warriors: tech expert Jensen (Chris Evans), second-in-command Roque (Idris Elba), escape driver Pooch (Columbus Short), sniper expert Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), and their leader, Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Each character has some kind of quirky character trait to go along with his special skills, whether it be Jensen’s stream-of-consciousness sarcasm or Cougar’s general resistance to saying much of anything at all. They have been deployed to help take out the headquarters of a malicious drug kingpin, but soon find that they are also the target of a malicious CIA “super spook” named Max (Jason Patric) who wants them all dead and framed for heinous war crimes they didn’t commit. Max, who is a cartoonishly exaggerated reflection of our worst fears about military-government treachery and deceit, is planning on starting a war by detonating a massive weapon on U.S. soil and then blaming terrorists.
The Losers survive, of course, and go underground in Bolivia, where they are eventually drawn out by Aisha (Zoe Saldana), a slick operator with a suspiciously vague background who offers them unlimited funding to exact revenge on Max. Why? Because she has her own agenda of vengeance, one that is left purposefully ambiguous until the last reel. In the meantime, she engages in a hot and heavy fling with Clay, which seems like a particularly bad idea given the running conversation about how Clay constantly gets involved with women who then try to kill him. Is Aisha truly on their side, or is she using them for something nefarious? She is certainly dangerous, a point that is made in the sequence where she and Clay go head-to-head in a hotel room, a kind of ultra-violent foreplay that humorously results in the hotel burning down.
It’s precisely that kind of visual and narrative silliness that makes The Losers oddly endearing. Screenwriters Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Hancock) and James Vanderbilt (The Rundown, Zodiac), the former of whom was originally set to direct the film, seem fully aware of just how ridiculous it all is, as do the performers, particularly Jason Patric, who turns the film’s arch fiend into a character who seems almost bored by his power and villainy. Granted, this approach saps some of the film’s tension, as Max is played primarily for laughs, but the threat of the endgame has enough punch to keep the action engaging, especially when betrayal and more betrayal is thrown into the mix. The rest of the actors also appeared to be having a grand ol’ time, particularly Chris Evans, who amusingly subverts his Brad Pitt-esque good looks in a series of comical setpieces that never quite undermine his bravado (although the comedic potential of using “Don’t Stop Believin’” ironically has just about run its course at this point). Director Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) lapses into some unnecessary aesthetic flourishes here and there (do we really need all that staccato editing?), but mainly he keeps the story moving steadily forward, pulling us from action sequence to action sequence without ever letting us forget that he knows as well as we do that it’s all preposterous, escapist junk food.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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