THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
I’m not sure how much there is to say about The Losers. The premise of the movie – yet another based on a comic book – has been done a hundred times before, and it’s been done better.
Here again we have a motley crew of colleagues, in this case a Special Forces unit stationed in Bolivia, lead by Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The members are stock characters you are doubtlessly familiar with: the intense one (Idris Elba), the goofy one (Chris Evans), the silent one (Oscar Jaenada), and the one who seems to panic a lot (Columbus Short). While in Bolivia on a mission, a criminal mastermind named Max tries to kill them, for reasons that are never made quite clear. Instead, he unknowingly kills a helicopter full of innocent children.
Let me pause right here. This tragedy is so horrific that it immediately gets The Losers off on the wrong foot. Using the murder of children to kick off what is essentially a mindless action picture seems wrong. It’s a stumble the movie never recovers from.
Left for dead, the guys want to get back into the U.S. so they can exact revenge on Max. The only person who can get them home without Max finding out is Aisha (Zoe Saldana). This being a testosterone-driven action film, the lone significant female character of course has to be smokin’ hot, able to kick ass with the best of them, and with access to a seemingly endless fund to finance the revenge mission. While Clay and his colleagues pull of some elaborate (and implausible) stunts, such as staging a military-related traffic accident so they can steal a helicopter, there is very little suspense to their operation. Half the fun of a story like this is the set-up, which we never get to see. We don’t understand how they come up with their plans or how they gain access to all the materials needed to carry it out. Imagine how dull Ocean’s Eleven would have been had we not known George Clooney’s plan to rob the casino vault in advance and how difficult it would be to accomplish. Tension is built from knowing what the heroes have to overcome, not from watching them overcome nothing.
In the middle of all this dreck lies a delightfully weird, Christopher Walken-esque performance from Jason Patric as Max. Patric appears to know that the material is weak and that the only reasonable thing to do is to have fun with it. He turns Max into one of the kookiest movie villains of the new millennium, as he throws out delirious wisecracks and non sequiters. The only time The Losers springs to life is when he comes on, because he’s at least trying to do something different. Jason Patric is to this movie what Chris Klein was to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.
The Losers tries way too hard to be cool. There are constant fancy camera movements, funky editing, and sequences where the action is alternately sped up and slowed down. You can feel it trying to be badass, yet it fails consistently. Over-the-top action cinema is certainly possible, done with the right approach. This movie fails to be as satiric as Shoot ‘Em Up or as thrilling as Wanted. I wish there’d been more perspective here, more of a sense of trying new things rather than simply dressing the usual revenge-story elements with fancy visuals.
What remains is a watchable-but-uninspired 98-minute montage of mayhem. Things like plot, characterization, and logic have no place here. The Losers is a 14 year-old boy’s example of freakin’ awesome: it has lots of shootouts, lots of explosions, and lots of gratuitous close-ups of Zoe Saldana’s ass. Any mature viewer seeking a movie with even half a brain in its head will walk away sorely disappointed.
I cannot fault the actors; they are not the reason why the picture isn’t very good. In fact, the stars keep The Losers from being a flat-out disaster, managing to generate some collective chemistry despite having a dull, formulaic screenplay from which to work. I have a feeling that a documentary about the making of the movie would be more entertaining than the movie itself.
There is a certain type of action picture that technically holds one’s attention while it runs, yet is almost immediately forgettable afterwards. From Paris With Love is in this category, and so is The Losers. I’ve seen worse movies, for sure; at the same time, the fact that it doesn’t completely and totally suck is hardly an endorsement. Perhaps the film would have worked had it been more willing to go for the R rating, rather than watering down the action to a largely bloodless PG-13 level. A harder approach to the sexual tension between Saldana and Morgan would have spiced things up as well. Then again, the script is fundamentally lazy, and as the old saying goes, if it ain’t on the page then it ain’t on the stage (or, in this case, on the screen).
( out of four)
The Losers is available on a movie-only DVD and in a features-laden DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack starting July 20.
The supplementary materials on the Blu-Ray start off with "Zoe and the Losers," a five-minute feature in which the male cast and crew members salute Zoe Saldana's ability to hold her own on a testosterone-driven shoot, apparently unaware that this attitude is actually kind of condescending.
"Band of Buddies: Ops Training" is a multipart feature that details the production. The first section, "Walk the Ops Walk," attests to the filmmakers' desire for authenticity in depicting the Special Forces. Great care was taken to get details technically right, even if they seemed trivial to outsiders. "Transforming Puerto Rico" reveals that, despite taking place in several countries, the entire movie was filmed in one place, with parts of Puerto Rico doubling for various global locations. Finally, there is "Going Deep Into the Action," which shows how some of the movie's action sequences were staged. Most illuminating here is the amazing footage of a stuntman and a cameraman strapped to a wire rig and jumping off a ledge together. All three parts of this feature are very informative.
"The Losers: Action Style Storytelling" is perhaps the best bonus on the disc. This ten-minute segment interviews Andy Diggle and Jock, the creators of the comic book on which the film is based. Amusingly, they designed their book to feel like a movie, only to have it turned into one. Knowing nothing about the comic before seeing the film, I was really intrigued to hear what they had to say about the creation of their work, as well as its cinematic transformation.
The Blu-Ray also has one deleted scene, running under a minute, that is notable for a Chris Noth cameo. It's largely inconsequential otherwise.
Finally, there is a 13-minute preview for the upcoming Warner Home Video release "Batman: Under the Red Hood." I declined watching this feature, as I intend to review the title in the future and didn't want to know too much about it in advance.
The Losers was a so-so movie. The Blu-Ray features are a bit better, if not overly abundant (a cast commentary would have been entertaining). Picture and sound quality are tops, particularly on the animated credit sequences that begin and end the feature.
The Losers is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.