by HELEN GEIB
The Losers might have been a really fun movie if the filmmakers had decided what kind of movie they were making before they started filming.
“The Losers” are an American military black ops team. The members: Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the commander; Roque (Idris Elba); Jensen (Chris Evans); Pooch (Columbus Short); and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). The Losers are in Bolivia to facilitate the jet-bombing of a drug kingpin’s compound when Max (Jason Patric), the evil CIA guy running the operation, tries to have them killed. They survive by accident, throw their dog-tags into the fiery wreckage to make it look like they died, and go underground. Some of them just want to make it back home, some want payback. The mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana) offers them both. She wants Max dead too, and will get them into the country- and provide arms and intelligence- if they promise to kill him for her.
The film uses two competing stylistic approaches. One is the hyper-stylization of a comic book movie. Given that Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt’s script is adapted from a comic book series (written by Andy Diggle), this is certainly appropriate to the material. In fact, one would reasonably expect the entire movie to be in comic book movie-style. Instead, the comic bookish-ness is regularly interrupted by long stretches cast in the bland mold of standard-issue Hollywood actioner.
Elements in comic book movie style include the promising opening sequence, which begins by introducing the individual Losers in freeze-frame shots suggesting panel art before morphing into an enjoyably ridiculous action set-piece. Sylvain White’s direction and the cinematography are at their most distinctive while the team is down and out in Bolivia. There is a strong comic book movie feel to this part, especially in the use of color, like the saturated red color palette of Clay’s hotel room, an evocative backdrop for his first meeting with Aisha. Both the panel art and intense colors recur through the film, although they are less pronounced post-Bolivia.
One element that is consistently played in comic book movie-style is Max, a cartoonish super-villain if ever there was one. Max’s grand design for world mayhem is unabashedly absurd from the get-go. By the end, his plan- and by extension the plot- seriously makes no sense at all. In contrast, the Losers have relatable goals like reuniting with their families and revenge. The good guys are basically realistic in characterization and behavior, so the abrupt transitions from them to scenes of Max reveling in his own super-villainy are disconcerting, as well as symptomatic of the film’s frequent changes in tone.
There are things to enjoy about The Losers. One is Chris Evans’ Jensen, the designated comic relief character. Evans is funny and charming; the movie turns fun whenever Jensen is the center of attention. Short as Pooch, the designated dedicated family man, is also very personable and an able straight man. Morgan and Saldana strike sparks. The film repeatedly clicks- briefly. There will be an exciting action beat, or a funny line, or a convincing dramatic moment, and then The Losers will go right back to being erratic and dull.
1 1/2 stars
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For a silly comic book movie that understood what it was and ran with it, watch Ghost Rider.