Losers, The

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 04/23/10 03:59:48

"Clever one-liner/caption to be inserted later (if ever)."
3 stars (Just Average)

The second comic book adaptation in as many weeks to hit movie theaters, "The Losers" is an 80s-style, ensemble action-comedy based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series written by Andy Diggle ("Daredevil," "Green Arrow: Year One," "Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper," "Hellblazer") and penciled by Jock (he goes by one name, like Madonna or Maradona). Directed by Sylvain White ("Stomp the Yard," "I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer") and written by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt ("The Rundown"), "The Losers" mixes broad comedy (physical and verbal) with well-choreographed (and easy to follow) action scenes. Unfortunately, a miscast Jason Patric (giving an overblown, parodic turn as the enigmatic villain, Max) and the limitations inherent in the studio-mandated PG-13 rating mute "The Losers’" effectiveness as entertainment.

Anyone familiar with the comic book series will recognize the general contours of The Losers storyline, but with important differences and departures from the source material. Rather than setting a pivotal event in Afghanistan, presumably due to Warner Brothers’ desire to play it safe politically, the film adaptation opens in Bolivia as Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the leader of a Special Forces unit seconded to the CIA, conducts a covert operation to take down a reputed drug lord, Fadhil (Peter Francis James). Clay’s unit includes Roque (Idris Elba), Clay’s second-in-command, Jensen (Chris Evans), a computer expert (because every covert unit has one), Pooch (Columbus Short), the transport chief and self-described “Black MacGyver,” and Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), the unit’s monosyllabic sniper.

Clay may come off, at least initially, like a typical bad-ass, ready and willing to use extra-judicial violence to further American goals, however defined, but he balks when he spots children being ushered in the drug lord’s compound. With an air strike minutes away, Clay attempts to rescue the children, but his noble plans go awry when the duplicitous Max (Patric) orders their death at the end of their mission. They escape with their lives, but they’re presumed dead by Max and his confederates. Stuck in Bolivia (Puerto Rico, acting as a stand-in), with minimal resources and no future, Clay and his men drift from one superficial experience to another until Aisha (Zoe Saldana), a woman with a hidden agenda and $4 million in cash, offers to help Clay and his men return to the United States. All she asks in return is Max’s death.

From there, The Losers switches from action film to heist or caper film. Back in the states, Clay and his men target a heavily protected police van (Aisha claims Max as the sole passenger), but they don’t find Max. Instead, they find the first of several clues to Max’s plans, plans that The Losers doesn’t explain clearly. He seems to be a Bush-style neo-con (unsurprising since that’s how Diggle wrote him) with far-ranging plans to remake the Middle East to better serve American goals and interests through the use of next-generation weaponry. More than that, however, remains unexplained, an example of how The Losers repeatedly pulls its punches, narratively and thematically.

With politics and ideology relegated to the background, The Losers succeeds or fails based on whether it delivers the combination of action and comedy that the TV ads and internet trailers promised. It does, but only sporadically. Jensen gets most of the one-liners, but they’re hit-or-miss and when they hit, it’s often due to Chris Evans’ (the future Steve Rogers/Captain America) mock-serious delivery. Character backgrounds are barely filled in, if filled in at all. Pooch has a family he’s left behind, which in turn raise doubts and concerns about his involvement in the mission. Cougar is a man of few words, his background left unexplained. Roque bristles at Clay’s leadership and openly questions his decisions. Their background together, presumably on many covert missions, is also left unexplored. Aisha gets the most development, but it’s saved for a background-revealing scene that’s as unsurprising as it predictable.

That leaves us right back where we started: White delivers commendably coherent action scenes. They’re edited quickly, using multiple angles and camera moves, but White understands the need to give moviegoers enough visual information to connect shots and build a mental picture of what’s going on. He throws in a few freeze frames, poses mostly, meant to echo panels from the comic book specifically or comic books in general. If they work, it’s mostly because they’re generally unobtrusive, flourishes that rarely distract from the unfolding action. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. held White to a PG-13 rating. With a high, but necessarily bloodless body count, the deaths in "The Losers" feel meaningless (because they are).

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