(by Dustin Putman
"The Losers" was tailor-made for an April release date. As a globe-trotting, by-the-numbers action flick, it is not heinous enough to open at the start of the year, too frivolous to receive a fall berth amidst more prestigious projects, and free of the fireworks and wow-factor expected of big summer blockbusters. It's a textbook example of diverting, forgettable, been-there-done-that, middle-of-the-road mediocrity. Not necessarily a chore to sit through, the film nonetheless gives the viewer little to think or care about as dark comedy intermingles with lots of explosions and plenty of clichés (yes, there is a slow-motion shot of the heroes coolly walking in a line toward the camera). Article continues below
When a United States Black Ops team—leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), second-in-command Roque (Idris Elba), hacker whiz Jensen (Chris Evans), pilot Pooch (Columbus Short), and sniper Cougar (Oscar Jaenada)—head into the Bolivian jungle only to watch as the twenty-five imperiled children they have just saved are brutally killed in a helicopter explosion, the government washes its hands of the incident and the five men are presumed dead. Without passports to return to their homeland, cue the entrance of Aisha (Zoe Saldana), a tough beauty with an ultimatum for the quintet: help her to find and kill Max (Jason Patric), a homicidal megalomaniac planning world domination, and she will get them back in the U.S.
Based on the DC Vertigo comic by Andy Diggle, "The Losers" pales in comparison to a better recent graphic novel adaptation, "Kick-Ass," and also to the quality capable of screenwriters Peter Berg (2004's "Friday Night Lights") and James Vanderbilt (2007's "Zodiac"). The same scrutiny cannot be leveled at director Sylvain White (2007's "Stomp the Yard"), who does what he can with the material given to him. White is surprisingly proficient at conceiving and delivering the action in a way that is cohesive and involving without falling into the trap of shaky camerawork and epileptic cutting. The trouble is that there is no originality within said action sequences, and only a few—including the pre-credits opening; a fiery hotel room fight between Clay and Aisha; and a truck hijack via an invading helicopter in downtown Miami—are worth remembering a day later.
While the pacing is kept steady for much of the duration, the characters are sketchily written at best and two motive-skewing twists prove at least one too many. If the protagonists are differentiated more by appearance than depth of personality, then the antagonist is made maniacally delicious by way of some twisted humor and a game performance from Jason Patric (2009's "My Sister's Keeper'). One of cinema's first environmentally conscious bad guys, Patric's Max has created a sonic dematerializer, a weapon with the power to wipe out an island in a matter of moments while staying steadfastly green. He's not above reciting nursery rhymes ("Home again, home again, jiggity-jig") in between his evil doings, and, in the film's single best and funniest scene, he shoots his umbrella-carrying assistant at point-blank range when she briefly stumbles in the sand and allows the rays of the sun to touch him for a split second.
Beside Jason Patric's acerbic little turn, the other actors struggle to keep up. As brooding macho leader Clay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (2009's "Watchmen") fits the bill without ever becoming particularly ingratiating to the viewer. Chris Evans (2009's "Push") hams it up as Jensen, the sort of guy who thinks nothing of wearing a pink t-shirt advertising his niece's sports team, The Petunias, or breaking into a rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Idris Elba (2009's "Obsessed") and Columbus Short (2010's "Death at a Funeral") are wasted as Roque and Pooch. Finally, Zoe Saldana (2009's "Avatar"), as Aisha, is overshadowed by her skin-and-bones look that does no favors to a female character who is supposed to be tough enough to beat up all the boys. Saldana has a feisty screen presence, but here she looks feeble and malnourished.
"The Losers" can never quite break away from the feeling that it is just more of the same, nor does it ever quite decide if it should be taken seriously. The prologue, featuring a knife pressed up against a little boy's throat only for him and two dozen other children to be graphically blown to smithereens, is sobering bordering on sickening (particularly for a film rated PG-13). The jokey tone of other parts, however, suggest all is supposed to be in jest. Without anyone to care about on a close or intimate level, one thing is certain: a gag-filled satirical film revolving around Max's ridiculous level of malevolence would have been preferable to most anything else ending up in the finished product of "The Losers." Who wants to follow around a bunch of hardly interchangeable bores when being bad looks this much fun?