A film review by Craig J. Koban April 27, 2010


2010, PG-13, 98 mins.


Clay: Jeffrey Dean Morgan / Aisha: Zoe Saldana / Jensen: Chris Evans / Roque: Idris Elba / Pooch: Columbus Short / Cougar: Oscar Jaenada / Max: Jason Patric

Directed by Sylvain White/ Written by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt

THE LOSERS is many things: it’s dumb, silly, loud, frantic, over-the-top, and completely cheap and disposable as an action film. 

Yet, it is precisely for all of those reasons and more why I found myself liking it so much.  THE LOSERS – based on the 32 issue 2003 comic book series published by DC’s Vertigo line – is one of those proverbial "movies for guys that love movies": it has ample testosterone-induced action, loads of tough guys packing heat, a vile and nefarious villain, and a uber-hot chick that can kick tail as easy and willfully as her male companions.  The film may be B-grade, lightweight, predictable, and cornball, but it is also unapologetically breezy, exciting, efficient, never dull and it never takes itself too seriously.  It also mixes laughs and kinetic spectacle with a sly dexterity, which is not as easy as it looks.

I mean…what else were you looking for after watching the trailers for this film?  If you were expecting a lot of guns blazing, explosions galore, and tough/trash-talking banter and macho posturing, than this is the action film for you.  Yes, the film – and the comic series that spawned it – is derivative and comes from many familiar sources – think of it as equal parts THE A-TEAM, RAMBO, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - that hinges on a script that essentially consists of revenge and a race against time for the intrepid anti-heroes to find and kill the bad guy before he finds them.  

All of this has been done countless times in the past, but what makes THE LOSERS ultimately work is that it takes these more perfunctory elements of the action thriller genre and just has fun with them.  The makers here know very well that they're making pulpy junk food cinema, and they never apologize for it: it’s usually worse when films like this try to be something there are not.  THE LOSERS knows just how far to push the guffaws, the action, and the sheer ludicrousness of the story.

The film lunges viewers right into the heat of the action: In the jungles of South America a special elite team of CIA black-ops go on an important mission versus a ruthless drug lord (is there any other kind?).  We very quickly are introduced to each of the “Losers” and each specializes in various fields (like command, ordinance, rockets, sniper fire, etc.).  There is the leader, Clay (the cool and smooth talking Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Jensen (a wisecracking and funny Chris Evans), Rogue (a tough as nails Idris Alba), Pooch (a jive talking and good natured Columbus Short), and Cougar (the suave and very quiet Oscar Jaenada).  The Losers arrive at their destination and proceed to order a rocket strike against the dealer’s compound when they notice a bus filled with little kids arriving there (a tactical oops!).  Clay speaks to the man in charge over the radio named Max (Jason Patric) who decides that the missiles will go ahead…as planned.  This pisses off Clay, so he and his men decided to rescue the kids before the base is blown to kingdom come.  They do rescue them in the nick of time and place them on a helicopter.  Moments later, however, the helicopter is hit with a missile and destroyed, with all of the tykes aboard brutally murdered.

This really pisses off Clay and his men (no matter how hard edged they are, killing children is a very low blow).  They want to enact revenge in the worst way possible, but they’re in no position to do so and are stranded in Bolivia with no money, no passports, and very few resources.  Plus, they have very little idea who Max really is and, to make matters more complicated, everyone back home in the U.S. believes they're all dead.  These men without a country soon find some assistance when a sultry, determined, and fairly dangerous mystery woman arrives and offers them all a deal.  She is Aisha (the ridiculously gorgeous and spunky Zoë Saldana) and she gives them very little in the way of a back-story for herself, but what she does offer them is a deal: She will supply the group with whatever they need and if they are successful in finding and killing Max, then she will give them a way back to America so they can return home to their families and reclaim their lost lives.  One problem though: Aisha’s identity, history, and real motives are clouded in secrecy?  Can she be trusted?  Can the boys use her Intel to find Max and rid the world of him? 

Is this a movie for guys that like movies?

The film never once makes its plot twists and turns anything but preordained when it comes to Aisha’s real end game: they are as telegraphed as it gets, not to mention that the heroes' journey towards finding Max is tainted by the obligatory stand-offs, various mission impediments, traitorous actions by one key member, and so on.  THE LOSERS does not reinvent the narrative road map for revenge action films like this; what it does very well is to provide a very interesting villain for the protagonists to nab: Jason Patric seems like the least appropriate choice to helm a campy, larger-than-life, world-dominating baddass, but it is his atypical casting that makes Max a more intriguing villain.  Patric seems to relish in having all of the juiciest throwaway lines in the film, which he utters with a straight-laced matter-of-factness that makes the lines even funnier (that, and he never overplays the fairly broad part, which may have been the inclination of a lesser bit actor).  Furthermore, Max has compelling ambitions as far a megalomaniacal villains go: he's a deeply entrenched CIA operative that uses his clout and power to secure secret arms from all over the world and then, in turn, uses them against countries as a form of intimidation.  At one point in the film he is part of a test that shows off a doomsday-type bomb that destroys everything in its path by imploding it without releasing any pollution whatsoever.  It’s a climate change-friendly bomb.  Gotta admit, I have never seen a green terrorist in a film before.

THE LOSERS also benefits by the confident direction of Sylvain White, a former music video and commercial director that gives the film a stylish sheen without becoming too eye straining and headache inducing.  He and his director of photography, Scott Kevan, punctuate the film with some devilishly inventive visuals and effects.  There is a bone-crushing fight between Aisha and Clay early on that ultimately brings the hotel they are in down in flames.  There is an equally imaginative sequence where Aisha is in a standoff with several armed men and she manages to use both a ceiling mirror above a bed and a nearby bathtub as cover when all hell breaks lose.  And then there is an enthralling moment late in the film where Cougar – from a hidden sniper position – uses one shot against a motorcycle that manages to propel it into an airplane that he is trying to sabotage from taking off (talk about killing two birds with one stone!).  I like it when filmmakers create moments of mayhem and intrigue with flair and innovation.

The one problem I had with THE LOSERS is that its PG-13 rating impedes it from being a real kinetic, liberating, balls-to-the-wall R-rated thrill ride of wanton carnage.  On top of that, the film's conclusion seems to shout out "sequel" without really concluding the main story on any level of satisfaction.  Yet, the film is well oiled and directed and the script (provided by the very proven actor/director Peter Berg and ZODIAC and THE RUNDOWN writer, James Vanderbilt) is fresh and frequently hilarious at times with its characters: all of the actors have a great, unforced camaraderie and play off of each other with a sardonic edge.  The performances themselves are sort of thankless too: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, like George Clooney, underplays his role with a calm spoken authority; Chris Evans is chirpy and hysterical at times as his tech-happy and Journey tunes-lovin' merc; Zoë Saldana pours on the raw sex appeal and feminine toughness to very gratifying effect; and Jason Patric plays his super villain with a discreet looniness.  In due course, THE LOSERS provides what it promises: a considerable amount of easily palatable, old school action excitement that is surprisingly sure-footed, exhilarating, and enjoyable.   It has its fetishistic impulses for its gung-ho genre front and center and never hides it.  And for that, there’s nothing pathetic about these “Losers.” 

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