April 23, 2010

Losers, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Losers, The

ACTION:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-04-23

Running Length:

1:38

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric, Holt McCallany

Director:

Sylvain White

Screenplay:

Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, based on characters created by Andy Diggle

Cinematography:

Scott Kevan

Music:

John Ottman

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


It's as easy to deride The Losers for not being what it isn't as it is to celebrate it for being what it is. An unapologetic B-grade feature, The Losers delivers most of what's expected from this sort of picture, with a few shortcomings. The one-liners lack the zing one anticipates, the action occasionally verges on the pedestrian, the decision to opt for a PG-13 rating limits the level of carnage and sex, and the sequel-begging ending leaves behind a whiff of dissatisfaction. Still, for those who feel that too few movies these days offer the pure bliss of a testosterone overload, The Losers provides an antidote.

The cheesy plot is derived from an early story arc in the DC Comics title that spawned The Losers. It's generic but it gets the job done. The Losers, an elite squad of soldiers with varying skills and specialties - Jensen (Chris Evans), Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short), and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) - are led by Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a loner who views his men as his family. When an op in Bolivia goes horribly wrong and The Losers are believed to have been killed in action, they find themselves eking out a meager existence in South America while harboring a thirst for vengeance against the man responsible for their predicament: a CIA super-agent named Max (Jason Patric). That's the situation when the dangerous, attractive Aisha (Zoe Saldana) locates them and offers a deal: if they agree to find and kill Max, she'll provide them with a way back into the United States and a limitless supply of cash for any hardware they need to do the job. The specifics of her identity, however, remain a mystery.

Most scenes in The Losers serve one of two purposes. The vast majority highlight operations of the group, which usually conclude with a fight and/or a pyrotechnic display. A fair amount of screen time is also devoted to illustrating what a dastardly guy Max is. He kills children! He steals nuclear weapons! He drops a fat guy off a roof! The movie does a reasonable job of getting the audience to boo and hiss at Max, which is why the non-ending is such a bummer. A few sequences are devoted to character-development, but these are perfunctory and easily ignored. Likewise, the PG-13 rating reduces a couple of sex scenes into peek-a-boo teases.

Sylvain White, true to his origins as a music video and commercial director, adds an element of flair to his visuals by employing techniques like jump-cuts and slow-motion. One scene, with The Losers walking purposefully toward the camera would seem to be a direct nod to Reservoir Dogs. (Not that Tarantino originated the shot, but that's a touchstone for many modern directors.) White should be commended, however, for not employing a shaky cam for his action sequences - they are clearly presented and easy to follow. He also has a sense of humor, keeping his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when including a sequence in which a vehicle outraces a fireball. In fact, The Losers never takes itself too seriously (although it also doesn't try for outright parody), which is part of its limited charm.

The cast is comprised primarily of second-tier actors. The exceptions are Zoe Saldana and Chris Evans. At the time she made The Losers, Saldana had not yet hit it big with her 2010 twosome of Star Trek and Avatar, films that substantially increased her name recognition. Evans, whose superhero exposure includes the likes of The Fantastic Four and Push, was recently chosen as Captain America, which will inflate his profile. In The Losers, their functions are limited, with Evans mostly providing comic relief and Saldana functioning as eye candy. (There's a great shot of her silhouetted against the sky holding a rocket launcher.) The film's central figure is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose most notable role is probably as The Comedian in Watchmen. He's good at looking serious, but that's about the extent of his abilities (at least as evidenced here). Jason Patric is in full villain mode, missing only the mustache to twirl. Idris Elba plays the grizzled veteran, Columbus Short is the likeable meek guy, Oscar Jaenada is the obligatory Latino, and Holt McCallany is the henchman. All of them fill their stereotypes adequately.

My biggest complaint about The Losers has nothing to do with the generic nature of the plot or the lack of character development (I'd sound stupid if I claimed to expect much in either department from a movie of this sort); it's the inconclusive nature of the climax. Yes, there are shootings and explosions and a Rube Goldberg-inspired special effects show, but we're left hanging. The filmmakers are telling us that we have to wait for the sequel, which is a cheap thing to do, especially when a sequel is not guaranteed. It's sloppy, lazy storytelling for something like this not to provide a violently satisfying conclusion. That, more than any other reason, is why I shy away from giving The Losers a recommendation.

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