Let’s get right down to brass tacks: Sylvain White’s The Losers is not very good. Both the second edgy comic adaptation (after Kick-Ass) and the second elite-ops-on-a-suicide-mission movie (after Clash of the Titans) in a summer full of them (The A-Team, The Expendables, arguably Salt), The Losers feels shoddily written, by-the-numbers, and altogether pedestrian. (In fact, notorious hackmeister Akiva Goldsman has a producer cred here – that’s a pretty good tip-off for what you’re in for.)
And yet, even though The Losers is one of those movies where you sit around dutifully ticking off the one-liners, action beats, and omg-‘splosions from the trailer as they happen, just so you can figure out when you get to go home, I’ll say this: The movie’s got charisma to spare. I mean, The Comedian, Stringer Bell, Johnny Storm, Uhura (or, if you liked Avatar more than I did, Neytiri)…all in a B-movie, rock-’em-sock-’em action flick? That should work, right? And that’s not even counting appealing presences like Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, and Holt McCallany along for the ride.
And so there’s a strange, vaguely entertaining tension playing out at the heart of The Losers, almost despite itself. Are the amiable actors on display here enough to compensate for a film that is so lazy and perfunctory in pretty much every other aspect of its production? And, the answer is…no, not really. With one notable exception, all the players here eventually check out and succumb to the lethargy of the proceedings. (Losers, indeed.) Still, unlike Clash or Alice in Wonderland, Losers is never an irritatingly, in-your-face terrible experience. It’s just a ho-hum 100-minutes of blah that I’m sure will end up feeling perfectly harmless when TNT runs it into the ground a few years hence.
Anyway…The Losers, you say? Based on a Vertigo comic by Andy Diggle and Jock (I haven’t read it. The only DC Losers I’m familiar with are the WWII tank outfit that died in the Crisis), The Losers are basically your standard-issue coterie of black-ops, get-any-job-done paramilitary badasses, as per most every other film in this genre. Oh, and, as you might expect, they’ve been betrayed and left for dead by their handler, the mysterious and very well-connected Max (Jason Patric, way over the top but it’s not really his fault. Whatcha gonna do when the part is, for all intent and purposes, Dr. Evil?)
So, yes, this is basically the exact same story as The A-Team, or, for that matter Machete (once of Grindhouse, now, somewhat depressingly, its own full-length flick, coming to a theater near you this fall.) Only this time, somebody’s “f**ked with the wrong Mexican” — that would be laconic, eagle-eyed sharpshooter Cougar (Jaenada) — and his four friends: Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the hard-livin’ leader with woman troubles; Roque (Idris Elba), the grouchy #2 and knife specialist; Jensen (Chris Evans), the motor-mouthed hacker and comic relief; and Pooch (Short), the pilot and family man.
The X-Factor in this all-too-predictable tale is the lovely Aisha (Zoe Saldana), an alluring assassin who recruits the Losers in Bolivia, as they lick their wounds post-double-cross, and who makes the team a Godfather offer: She’ll get them back in the US if the Losers promise to take out Max for good. That sounds like a win-win for everybody…but what is Aisha’s game, exactly? Well, do you really want me to tell you? There aren’t too many surprises to be had here, so best keep that one quiet for now. (I will give away this: poor Saldana doesn’t get much to do but look great, drop some exposition now and again, and occasionally blow stuff up.)
Then again, she’s not alone in that regard. Anyone who’s ever watched The Wire knows that Elba is a charisma-bomb on most occasions. As Stringer Bell, he always commanded one’s full attention. But, here, he just seems bored and in a funk. Same goes for Morgan, who made a decent impression as the Comedian in Watchmen but, again, doesn’t have either the wherewithal or the ambition to spin gold from lead here. Somehow, someway (and just like Clash of the Titan‘s “power of Medusa”), this movie just seems to suck the life right out of people — It’s as if everyone realized at some point they were in a second-rate action movie and recalibrated their behavior accordingly.
The one notable exception I mentioned earlier, tho’, is the future Captain America, Chris Evans. Perhaps, thanks to his quality turn as the Human Torch in the otherwise atrocious Fantastic Four films, Evans has already had some practice in how to be the best thing in a bad movie. (He’s also quite good in the promising but maddeningly uneven Sunshine.) Or perhaps it’s just because his character, Jensen, is given the meatiest stuff to work with. Nonetheless, Evans sells it — The Losers is a zippier, vervier film whenever he’s onscreen. Which I guess makes him the winner of The Losers [rimshot]…Mama didn’t raise no fool.