Monday, September 6, 2010

The Losers

I came of age in the greatest time in film ever: the golden age of body count movies.  In those days (the late 80s-early 90s), the bad guys had evil oozing out of their pores, the good guys could kill hundreds of baddies with nary a scratch (Rambo II and III, I'm looking at you), and there always seemed to be a smart-ass remark after the good guys did something extra cool.  For about five years, these films reigned supreme, from (roughly) Die Hard to The Last Boy Scout (there are outliers to this statistical survey, but let's ignore them for the sake of argument right now).  These movies were always mostly awesome, and always (at least a little) stupid.  After a while, though, people wanted to see more realistic violence on the big screen, and these tributes to testosterone became quite rare in popular film.  That's why The Losers is such a breath of fresh (and familiar) air.  This is a movie that would have felt right at home in 1990.  The bad guy is pure evil, the good guys quip all day long, and there are a lot of dead bad guy underlings by the time this movie ends.

The Losers is a film about five elite Special Forces troops; Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the man with the plan, Roque (Idris Elba)  is his knife-wielding right hand, Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is the marksman, Pooch (Columbus Short) is the driver, and Jensen (Chris Evans) is the tech/communications guy.  The movie begins with the team on a relatively easy mission: they need to "paint" a target area for an air strike, basically giving the coordinates to the bombers.  After they give the order to strike, though, a group of children is brought in to the target area for the purpose of being drug mules.  The team tries and fails to cancel the air strike, so they rush in, kill a bunch of bad guys, and rescue the kids, narrowly avoiding the air strike.  When they reach their extraction point, the helicopter waiting for them has only room for the kids or the Losers (which is not a name I heard them referred to in the film, but whatever).  Clay lets the kids take the chopper.  Moments later, the helicopter is blown out of the sky.  Somebody wanted the Losers dead and twenty-five children died instead.  Oops.

After the bombing, the group lies low in Bolivia, trying to figure things out.  Eventually, Aisha (Zoe Saldana) finds them and offers Clay a shot at revenge.  Apparently, the man responsible for the helicopter attack was Max (Jason Patric), an omega-level CIA spook, the kind of guy that topples governments.  Obviously, going to the police won't do any good against such a foe.  The only solution is to kill Max.  For freedom.

No, it's not much of a plot.  That's okay, though.  This movie keeps the action coming early and often, and it's done very well.  There are explosions, sniper shots, car chases, shootouts, and you name it.  You want a body falling to its death from a building?  Puh-leaze.  Give me a real challenge.  Oh, you want a hand-to-hand fight between a man and woman in a fire that doubles as foreplay?  Your wish is granted!

The action would not be so entertaining if not for the cast.  Jason Patric steals the show as the ultra-evil Max.  I normally don't like Patric, but he's mwa-ha-ha evil here and knows it; he's a mass murdering bastard that never justifies himself and clearly likes what he does.  Most bad guys are just bad, but I always welcome the villains that you love to hate, and that is what Patric brings to the table as Max.   Chris Evans is the sarcastic guy he is in most of his movies, but he throws in a lot of uncomfortable comic awkwardness whenever women are involved.  It doesn't quite click, since he's kind of studly and it's hard to believe that his lack of game would prevent him from romantic success, but he still has his moments.  Oscar Jaenada doesn't say much, but his role is to be the quiet bad ass and he does his work well.  Holt McCallany is decent as Max's underling and their conversations make up some of the highlights of the film.  Jeffery Dean Morgan is a likable alpha male, but he's nothing special as Clay.  I like the guy and liked the character, but it's true.  Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, and Columbus Short don't do anything special, but none of them are bad, either.

Director Sylvain White does a good job keeping this movie moving, whether it be with action sequences or well-executed dialogue scenes.  This is the first movie of his I've seen, but I appreciate the music video quality of his cinematography.  This movie is based on a comic book series of the same name, with one of the primary writers of the TV show Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg) and the writer of The Rundown (James Vanderbilt) handling the adaptation.  I'm not familiar with the comic, so I don't know how well it was written, but this screenplay is pretty dumb.  That's not a problem for me, but consider yourself warned.  Yeah, there are the typical tough guy one-liners sprinkled throughout, but that's not the problem.  The problem is that I'm pretty sure that there are entire pages in the script that call for characters to watch explosions, smile, take a few beats, and then kill some underlings.  Again, I'm okay with that.  It's dumb, not necessarily bad.  What is bad is the basis for this film's conflict; so Max wanted to kill the Losers because...they saved children from an air raid, killing the bad guys he wanted to blow up only moments before their corpses blew up?  That seems silly, at best.

Ultimately, The Losers is a likable action movie that is a lot like ones you've seen before.  The action is good and served often, the characters are shallow but are equipped with sarcasm, and there is a genuinely amusing evildoer.  Yes, the script is a little dumb, the characters are one-dimensional, and you never care what happens to any particular character.  This is a movie that knows what it is and never apologizes.  The only thing that keeps it from joining the elite action movies on Mt. Stupid Bloodfest is the lack of originality.  Since these characters are so shallow, there's really nothing about this movie that makes it memorable.  It's a good time, but not much more.

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