The Losers is a military covert ops team of tough guys who do dirty work for the government. Col. Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the team’s leader. Roque (Idris Elba, Stringer Bell on The Wire) is the stoic second in command. Cougar (Oscar Jaeneda) is a sharpshooter and a man of few words. And Pooch (Columbus Short) and Jensen (Chris Evans) are in charge of weapons, equipment and comic relief.
The team is on a routine mission in Bolivia, taking out a drug dealer at his jungle compound, when they spy a bunch of kids. They try to abort, but a mysterious voice on the radio named Max (Jason Patric) says no. They save the kids anyway, and put them on a helicopter, but Max blows up the chopper. “That was supposed to be us,” Clay says. Betrayed and left for dead, the guys vow to seek revenge on Max.
Zoe Saldana keeps up her attempt, after Avatar, Star Trek and Death at a Funeral, to appear in every film that gets released, starring here as the mysterious Aisha, who finds the team in Bolivia and tells them she can find Max and fund the operation to take him down.
Saldana and Morgan seem to be having a competition to out-smolder the other when they’re onscreen together. The two have a great scene when they first meet in which their flirting erupts into a fistfight that ends with Clay’s hotel room on fire. The scene makes no sense story-wise, but it’s thoroughly entertaining. It’s basically foreplay for these two characters, and Morgan and Saldana have terrific chemistry in the film.
The film is full of charismatic character actors, and it takes someone with a strong presence to lead that group. Morgan has a great rumpled charm that is immediately appealing, and he makes a believable leader for the team.
Saldana is engaging in the film, but while she is undeniably a beautiful woman, she is looking a little thin here. I don’t mean to sound like her grandmother, but she could use a sandwich. There’s a scene in which she fires a bazooka while holding it underhanded, and it seems like she is just too weak to hoist it up to her shoulder.
Evans, the former Human Torch and future Captain America, is another standout. He is obviously the film’s comic relief, but he does his job quite well, making even throwaway jokes land solidly.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the film is Patric. He has been a fine actor for many years, but his best performances, in films such as Rush and Your Friends and Neighbors, have always been in the neighborhood of tortured and intense. And his attempts at mainstream filmmaking have tended to result in things like Speed 2: Cruise Control. Here, he is hilarious pretty much every time he is on the screen and is obviously having fun chewing the scenery. Max is a very postmodern take on the evil genius, a sort of self-aware Blofeld. He’s a sarcastic, white suit-wearing kind of guy who reminds us that good henchmen can be hard to find, and that buying weapons of mass destruction and starting a global war is a very hectic business. But he doesn’t let it diminish the glee he gets from doing evil deeds. Max barely remembers the Losers when they first come after them, but he soon becomes very excited about killing them.
Based on Max’s actions here, it seems that it would be nice for the criminal community if there were some sort of Angie’s List-type of service for henchmen, so they could tell if the evil genius they’re working for is apt to blow them away with little or no provocation.
The script, by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt (The Rundown), based on the comic book by Andy Diggle, gives the film a breezy, low-key charm that I found appealing. The plot doesn’t contain anything that we haven’t seen before, but it combines familiar elements (a team of tough guys seeking revenge) in an entertaining way, and the talented cast goes a long way to selling the film’s wry tone.
The movie’s solid direction also helps. Director Sylvain White doesn’t have a lot of previous credits, having only helmed stuff like Stomp the Yard and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer before, but he obviously knows how to put an action sequence together. The movie may be a little too slick for its own good at times, but White lays out the action scenes in a believable, comprehensible way, which is more of a compliment than it seems nowadays. White gives nods to the movie’s comic book origins, having transitions from scene to scene dissolve into comic panels, but he keeps the film’s action realistic.
There are multiple action films coming out this year, including the upcoming A-Team and The Expendables, that are meant to feel like throwbacks to the testosterone-fests of the 1980s. As the first one out of the gate, The Losers isn’t a film for the ages, but it is an efficient, relentlessly entertaining thriller with a top-notch cast that really sells the film’s charms.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.