It’s called show BUSINESS, so it is understandable that studios set up franchises, these days mostly based on comic books or fantasy novels. Sometimes the first picture is a stand alone that serves as the origin story of all of the characters with an ending open enough that sequels can be tacked on ad infinitum, or until they stop roping in the greenbacks. Then it is put in a drawer just long enough for nostalgia to build, and a reboot is planned. It is a good business model. Other times the initial picture sets up so many story lines and leaves so many loose ends that it presupposes the box-office success of the movie, guaranteeing sequels to fill out the rest of the narrative. If it is a huge, successful brand like Harry Potter then it is fine, the money is already in the bank, the studio is just waiting to cash the check. But if it is a lesser known property, say Andy Diggle’s Special Ops themed comic series, The Losers, doing so is a more risky proposition. Since the film is so open ended, so many grudges set in motion, with so many unresolved feuds the movie comes off like a TV pilot rather than a self sustaining motion picture. That is the biggest problem with Sylvian White’s banter-happy version of The Losers; all set-up and no real pay-off.
Using the first six issues of the titular comic book as a pretty faithful template the film tells the story of a bad-ass commando unit who are as good with snappy dialogue as they are with sniper rifles. When they are betrayed by the shadowy C.I.A. bad-guy, Max, they go underground to seek revenge, and to clear their names.
Writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt over flow each scene with so much jocular loquaciousness the film feels like it sprung from the mind of Diablo Cody, but without all that lesbian subtext. The dialogue is so peppy and filled with sarcasm that the writers mistook character for characterization. We are supposed to love these happy go lucky guys because they can flip a quick joke in the face of almost insurmountable danger. On one hand it is entertaining, the jokes are kind of funny, and the patter keeps the picture moving at a quick pace. In particular, Chris Evans as Jensen and Columbus Short as Pooch pull off their lines with significant aplomb bringing their ample screen presence to the fight. On the other hand, for all the silly quips none of the characters come off as anything but one dimensional. No one ever really breaks from the happy-go-lucky joker-with-a-gun persona, and thus even though bullets are flying every which way, the stakes never seem all that dire. Not helping to accentuate anything, White and cinematographer Scott Kevan shoot the film like a comedy with an over saturated pastel pallet, making even the most dramatic scenes seem light and airy.
All of this plays into the TV pilot vibe of the film. The set-up is already painfully reminiscent of The A-Team; with the fun dialogue and the ante so low Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s gruff Colonel Clay might as well have been named Hannibal. For that matter Pooch as “Mad Dog” Murdoch, Jensen as Face, and Idris Elba’s Rouge as B.A. Baracus (that would make Oscar Jaenada’s Cougar and Zoe Saldana’s Aisha, Frankie Santanta and Amy Allen respectively). Also like the A-Team, the Losers try not to shed any blood because of the sanitized PG-13 rating, sometimes hard to believe with the excess of, sometimes irrationally conceived, action permeating the film. The scene where Clay and Aisha meet for the first time quickly descends into fisticuffs without any real reasoning other than “to give the audience what they want.”
Not that the film isn’t entertaining. All of the actors seem like they are having fun with the silly romp. Jeffery Dean Morgan and Idris Elba make for a convincing set of out of work Special Forces types, mostly because of their impressive physicality. Though with their angry stares, it is easy to image either one as a Blackwater ready, machine-gun toting killer.
Unfortunately the most interesting character is dealt the worst performance. Max’s big plan revolves around Snukes, some type of sci-fi sonic weapon that destroys everything without all that nasty nuclear fallout. It is a neat idea that is never fully explored, nor is the Base Dimension String theory or Singularity Events that Max mentions in passing, presumably to be left for the sequels. His “doing bad for good’s sake” motivation is a little deeper than those of his adversaries, but Jason Patric plays Max with all the enjoyment of testicular cancer. His dry wit and vicious humor come off as ridiculous, and make the villain not just someone you root against, but wish him to be killed just so he won’t take up any more screen time.
Nonetheless, if it were a TV pilot it might be for a series I would tune in for. The fast paced fun would make for a great 43 minutes each week, and the bizarre motivation of the villain could keep me coming back. However it isn’t a TV show. It is a movie, and thus the audience has come to expect more. Some sort of character development, some sort of arch, some sort of consequences. It is a shame that if the audience goes into this picture with those preconceived notions they will be the real losers.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)
Official The Losers Site: www.the-losers.com/