The Losers has gritty but modest goals: Throw some sweat-soaked, PG-13, tough-guy swagger and destruction at you for 90 minutes and keep it moving too fast and amusing for the cool clichés to stick (Best washed down with burgers and bourbon before you know what hit you.) At all this it sleazily, enjoyably succeeds.
With The A-Team, The Expendables, Predators, and The Losers, this is clearly a glorious time to be alive if what sparks your firecracker is watching bands of sweaty, ruggedly handsome men talk tough, crack wise, and blow stuff up. Alas, it’s not a good time to be in such a team. No matter how good you are at shooting people, blowing things up, or cutting folks apart with highly compensatory buck knives, you are doomed to be double-crossed, set-up, or just generally jacked around by shadowy Powers That Be.
In the case of The Losers, it’s a Special Forces team that gets woefully mistreated by their CIA handler Max (Jason Patric, all but shaving his head and stroking a cat)—so mistreated in fact that they themselves are blowed up and left for dead after a clandestine mission. Of course the Losers aren’t dead, of course they want revenge, and of course it will involve a lot of wisecracking, shooting, sweating, and even more exploding things.
The fuel-injected plot (find Max, kill him, then kick his ass) is blissfully hollow, and the characters are cardboard stereotypes who learned to express their emotions at a Soldier of Fortune weekend retreat. There are hi-tech toys and Old-School brawls; various vehicles stolen and (“Oh S#!t!”) demolished; knife fighting as foreplay; a boldly un-ironic Slo-Mo Hero Walk; and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
The Losers is cheap, reptile-brain trash, but unlike The Expendables, it’s quick of tongue and light of foot. That all this works isn’t surprising given the film’s bubble-gum pop pedigree. It’s based on a comic-book from writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock, who–despite sounding like the Worst Burlesque Duo Ever–are solid dealers of tasty schlock.
Losers director Sylvain White may lay a little too heavily on the jitter-cam, Cuisinart editing, and scuzzy saturated style of flicks like Smokin’ Aces and Domino, but the no-fuss script by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt keeps things humming along. (Berg’s the director of The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, and Hancock.) A well-balanced bit of junk food, The Losers never takes its cut-rate bad-assery too seriously but also never breaks swagger. It’s pumped full of bright, manic energy and a too-cool-to-kill confidence that delivers zero sophistication and 100% gratification.
A Winning Team of Losers
The cast helps, too–The Expendables and The A-Team may have the Big Names, but The Losers have the scrappier talent, gruffly led by The Watchmen’s Jeffery Dean Morgan. Morgan was made for this sort of thing, wearing his hang-dog He-Mug like Robert Downey Jr’s unshaven older brother and emoting like he’s found his inner Brad Garrett. There’s also plenty of funny from Chris Evans with his pumped-up mix of clownish charisma and sincere smart-aleckry, and the talented Idris Elba (The Wire, Obsessed) exudes his usual rock-steady, laid-back menace.
And of course there’s current Avatar It Girl Zoe Saldana in a pair of painted-on cherry-red pants that should be registered as a lethal weapon. The film certainly knows how to highlight Saldana’s assets and admirably gives her more to do than just look good—but sooner or later she’ll need to prove herself in a role that doesn’t slink by on fanboys’ exotic, Amazonian fantasies.
Columbus Short has been proving himself lately in Armored and Death at a Funeral, and soulful Spanish heartthrob Óscar Jaenada should also see his star rise as Javier Bardem gets too Big and Acclaimed for this sort of empty calorie fun. Best of all is Patric, cruelly mincing up the scenery with beady eyed, smug self-amusement while indulging every cartoon villain trick in the book.
The Losers may not be quite as cool as it thinks it is, and afterward you won’t give its fizzy mayhem any more thought than you do the Scorpion-Juice Particle-Collider Energy Drink that gets you through the day. But when so many sexy, brainless, video-game action films fail to get the job done, it’s nice to see one that meets it’s less-than-lofty aspirations with exploitative, explosive skill.