- The Losers
Directed by Sylvain White
Screenplay by Peter Berg, James Vanderbilt
Clay – Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Aisha – Zoë Saldana
Jensen – Chris Evans
Roque – Idris Elba
Pooch – Columbus Short
Cougar – Oscar Jaenada
Max – Jason Patric
Wade – Holt McCallany
This B-Movie A-Team Gets an ‘A’ for Effort
Movies with titles like The Losers are a gift to film critics. The monikers may be intended ironically but are invariably fodder for such puns as “The Losers… most certainly are,” for example. Or, perhaps a little less obvious, “For these Losers it’s all about how you play the game… in this case, very, very badly.” So it’s pretty lucky for director Sylvain White this rip-snorting firecracker of an action film is a hoot and a half. Yes, The Losers is brazen, bullet-riddled, sexy and hilarious fun for audiences everywhere, which just goes to show you that even movies like The Losers get lucky sometimes.
Well, maybe not “lucky,” per se. The Losers has some fine source material behind it: “The Losers,” a comic book series from the acclaimed team of writer Andy Diggle and the artist Jock. In both the film and series, a black ops team for the CIA called “The Losers,” each member having been drummed out of previous assignments for insubordination (a justification for the name included in the book but not, for some reason, in the movie), are forced to once again defy their orders when a mission goes sour. Their reward: a death sentence, or so the CIA believes. With their identities erased and their families already grieving, these special operatives decide to use their deadly skills to exact vengeance upon “Max,” the handler who betrayed them and now plans to use the CIA to fund unthinkable acts of destruction.
As with any elite team, each member of The Losers is easily identifiable by their specific physical characteristics, special skills and personality traits. There’s Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of The Watchmen), the grizzled veteran leader always clad in a black suit with his shirt unbuttoned, Roque (Idris Elba of The Wire), a Doubting Thomas knife expert who loves his earth tones, Cougar (Oscar Jaeneda of Steven Soderbergh’s Che), the silent sniper who always wears a cowboy hat, Jensen (Chris Evans, of Sunshine), the comic relief tech guy in distracting t-shirts, Pooch (Columbus Short of Armored), the vehicles expert with a pregnant wife and a ubiquitous “Taco Bell Chihuahua” bobblehead, and Aisha (Zoë Saldana of Star Trek), the sexy woman who bankrolls the team and has a secret agenda. There you have it: a team of stock characters, neatly color-coded for easy reference. But while it’s easy and fun to reduce The Losers to a group of caricatures, it’s a little harder but equally important to admit that the choice to do so is a strong one. When a cast of characters gets large enough, particularly in a film this heavy with action and spectacle, it’s important to provide the audience with effective shorthand.
The cast certainly makes life easier for Sylvain White, formerly best known for directing Stomp the Yard. While he busies himself with stylish action sequences and an oh-so-hip pop music soundtrack, he can just let the cast work their magic in a script rife with empathy for our heroes. Columbus Short once again displays an innate lovability as the team’s only family man, and the dulcet tones of Idris Elba make Roque’s constant naysaying seem reasoned and fair, rather than an obvious plot point. Jeffrey Dean Morgan once again puts to good use his air of both experience and surprisingly youthful charisma as Clay, to the extent that it hardly seems creepy at all that he’s young Zoë Saldana’s love interest. Of course, the always undervalued Chris Evans steals secret files and most of the movie as Jensen, whose love for his niece manifests as hardcore hooliganism for her peewee soccer team “The Petunias,” whose promotional shirt he wears proudly into battle.
Of course, none of these characters or their cute little quirks are on the level of, say, The Seven Samurai. Indeed The Losers very narrowly misses its obvious target of mass-market mediocrity. The editing is almost fast enough to be incoherent, but always stays slightly below the red line. The music choices, like a liberal dose of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” are almost perfect enough to seem manufactured by a marketing team, but are always used in the name of good, clean, forgivable fun. And the heists, mostly (if not entirely) lifted from the comic book, provide a fair amount of twists, turns and overwhelming obstacles to keep our heroes perpetually challenged without their future ever looking too dire.
But alas, if The Losers has a particular failing it would be the lack of proper villainry. The typical foe standing in our heroes’ way is little more than a sponge designed specifically for bullets, and the actual antagonist of the piece, the great and powerful “Max,” is played by Speed 2: Cruise Control’s Jason Patric as an apathetic Lex Luthor type who can barely find the time to be annoyed by The Losers’ many incredible feats of daring-do. Perhaps Max is supposed to be such a calculating mastermind that these various setbacks simply fail to register, but alas the effect is one in which the villain feels somehow beneath our heroes, and his masterplan, when finally revealed, feels pretty uninspired compared to the incredible flaming hoops of innovative action awesomeness the protagonists have to barrel through across the narrative. The result is a team of capable, likable heroes who are generally more challenged by busywork than an actual villain worth their, or the audience’s time.
But although it’s taken a lot of time to describe that particular issue, in reality the problem is fairly minor. In fact, The Losers itself is fairly minor. It’s a fun, well-produced bit of escapism that everyone can be proud of. Big, dumb fun that never actually goes so far as to insult the audience’s intelligence (I’m looking at you, Clash of the Titans). It’s the kind of movie that Hollywood churns out so often and with so little fanfare that it probably came as a surprise to the producers that they’d done such a good job of making it. These Losers… simply aren’t.