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Sunday
Apr252010

The Losers, 2010


"Eh" for Effort

They’re a grizzled, chiseled band of quirky ex-military specialists framed and left out to dry by a government that now wants them dead. Yep, I saw the new A-Team trailer today in front of The Losers.

This film is about a grizzled, chiseled band of soldiers who do the dirty work that larger military units are too graceless to handle. And they may have to sacrifice everything in order to rid the world of scumbags who traffic in poor people and seek great power through new, illegal weapons. Is it weird that they played The Expendables trailer today, too?

Which movie am I talking about here?

Oh, yeah! It’s The Losers, a movie based on the DC/Vertigo graphic novel about a small, quirky band of ex-military specialists framed and left out to dry by a government that now wants them dead; after thwarting a human traffic ring in Bolivia, they take on a new mission that involves taking down a rogue CIA agent before he can acquire a new, illegal weapon and start World War Three.

If 1996 was the year of dueling volcano blockbusters and 1998 was the year of Earth-ending asteroid pictures, then 2010 is shaping up to be the year of men-on-a-mission movies. And, brother, are they off to an inauspicious start.

It’s not that The Losers is a bad movie; it’s just not a particularly inspired one. If you’re thinking of catching it in theatres, please, stop and look at the rating. Yeah, that’s a PG-13 in the little box at the bottom of the poster, and I predict the FX network won’t have to do a lot of cutting to bring this cozy actioner to basic cable in a couple years. The movie feels safe from beginning to end. At no point did I get concerned over the fate of anyone on the team, nor did I believe that they might fail in their mission. Perhaps it’s a by-product of having seen this same movie way too many times (and executed much better), but The Losers feels and plays like a primer on the genre: it’s probably fantastic if you’ve never seen a movie of its kind before—or an episode of The A-Team.

Though, as I said before, it’s not bad. The main cast is uniformly top-notch, and their chemistry is terrific. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba spar as the first- and second-in-command of the bunch, and I bought their rapport; they’re the wise old pros keeping tabs on the younger, wittier kids, played by Columbus Short, Chris Evans, and Oscar Jaenada. I didn’t quite buy all of the team as military experts, though; in particular Short and Evans, who seem like replacements called for by a marketing exec that wanted the film to skew younger.

Zoe Saldana pops up as a something-or-other whose main purpose is to seduce Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character and play motivation chameleon. At first, I was on-board with her character, but over the course of the film, she devolved from seductress to pouty, confused assassin to kept woman, and I mourn the death of her mystery.

If there’s a reason to check out The Losers, it’s Jason Patric as Max, the evil CIA spook who is after a “green” weapon that can evaporate landmasses in a kind of sonic black hole. His character is suave, ruthless, and totally nuts. Patric obviously doesn’t take the role seriously, and boozily wanders throughout the picture as a maniacal cross between Andy Warhol and Chuck Bass. His final scene is priceless in its weirdness.

I think the main problem with the movie is that the material feels like it should be heavier than it has been written. I haven’t read the DC/Vertigo story, but those comics tend to be dark and merciless, and I can’t help but think screenwriters Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt watered down an adult story for the benefit of teenagers and casual comics fans.

Early on, especially, the action is interrupted by a lot of pointless freeze-frames and comic book artwork superimposed on live-action scenes; it’s as if this were the first comic adaptation and director Sylvain White wanted everyone to know that his movie was campy, like those funnybooks the kids are reading today down at the soda shop. I almost felt insulted by this, until I realized that it’s likely that nobody involved in the picture knew better.

“But wait,” you say. “Didn’t Chris Evans play The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies?”

Why, yes, he did. And the makers of those films didn’t know shit about comics, either.

The lesson for today, kids, can be summed up by Tom Petty’s assertion that even the losers get lucky sometimes.

And sometimes, they’re just unlucky, boring hacks.

Note: The Losers also has the dubious distinction of featuring the worst use of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" in the history of pop culture. It's used three times here, without thematic purpose, and I was baffled by the filmmakers' refusal to realize that whatever cute joke they were trying to make with the song was simply not effective. It's a slap in the face for fans of both Journey and Glee.

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