Monday, April 26, 2010

Movie Review: The Losers

The Losers ** ½
Directed By:
Sylvain White.
Written By: Peter Berg & James Vanderbilt based on the comic book by Andy Diggle.
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Clay), Zoe Saldana (Aisha), Chris Evans (Jensen), Idris Elba (Roque), Columbus Short (Pooch), Óscar Jaenada (Cougar), Jason Patric (Max), Holt McCallany (Wade), Peter Macdissi (Vikram), Peter Francis James (Fadhil).

The Losers is a movie that is based on a comic book – and feels like it. No, there are no superheroes in this movie, but given what the characters do in the film, they may as well be. The movie overdoses on its hyperkinetic style, and never really relaxes long enough to concentrate on what makes the film as good as it is – that is the performances and characterizations of its actors. It spends so much time with whip bang action sequences – often done in slow motion, or else editing so rapid that it borders on incoherent at times – the director – Sylvain White – seems to not notice that his cast is actually do a good job under all the pyrotechnics. Slow this movie down just a little, and it becomes a great action film. At the speed it’s at now, I found myself constantly being taken out of the flow of the movie by the director’s insistence that we notice all the nifty things he can do.

The movie is about an elite group of American soldiers, stationed in Bolivia who are given a seemingly simple assignment – mark a compound of a “very bad man” for bombing and just sit back and ensure the job is done. They do, but when they realize that there is a group of 25 kids in the compound, they try and call off the mission. The ice cold voice on the other end of the radio informs them that he will not call it off. The group goes in, and does succeed in rescuing the kids. The put them on a helicopter which they think will get them to safety – instead the copper is shot down because that cold voice thinks they are on board. Now wanted criminals, they fake their deaths and vow vengeance on that voice – the only thing they have is that voice and a name – Max.

The five soldiers represent the usual cross section you get in movies like this. The leader is Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – and the others defer to his judgment even after they are out of the army. The tech expert is Jensen (Chris Evans) – who talks a mile a minute and is more than a little geeky. Roque (Idris Elba) is the toughest – the closest to Clay, but also the one most likely to want to take over and be the leader himself. Pooch (Columbus Short) is the weapons expert. And finally there is Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) who never says more than four words at a time, but is deadly accurate with his sniper rifle. Into their midst walks Aisha (Zoe Saldana), a woman of dubious origins but who has the connections to get them back into the States, and tells them that she can help them get Max (Jason Patric), a power mad CIA agent waging his own personal war. They agree.

It’s these six people – The Losers plus Aisha – that make the movie work as well as it does. Morgan is good as the charming, roguish leader of the group – who is down, but not out, and who is the one who really wants revenge. Elba does his job as the tough guy – the most untrusting, and selfish, of the losers who more than revenge, simply wants his life back. Evans does his usual performance here as he did in the Fantastic 4 movies – if you liked him there (and I thought he was the only thing about those movies worth watching) – you’ll like him here. Short and especially Jaenada are given much less to do, but do it well. But it is Zoe Saldana who is the real star here – and not just because she is gorgeous, and wearing almost no clothes through much of the movie (although that doesn’t hurt), but because she oozes a dangerous sexuality throughout much of the film – but is able to bring it back to a vulnerable place when her characters secrets are revealed. It represents another step in the right direction for her career. Less successful is Patric, who is given the colorful role of the villain, a host of one liners and plenty of scenery to chew. Some of his scenes are inspired brilliance, but others are just plain bad. He does not quite have the gift of say Christopher Walken, who would have played this role brilliantly. However, even he is good at points. If the movie had stayed focused on these characters, instead of ratcheting up the action level with each passing scene, I think the film could have worked.

It was the action that did it in for me. Fight sequences where characters don’t seem notice that the room they are in is on fire, moments where the action is slowed down for no reason, shots of people diving out of the way of bullets reflected in fall shards of glass, people who get shot and are out running around a scene later, improbably feats of heroism and marksmanship. Yes, to a certain extent all of these things go with the terrain of an action movie – and had White played them a little straighter, without trying to gussy them up even more than they already were, the movie would have worked better. But as it stands, the action kept taking me out of the movie – kept taking focus away from what was working, and putting it all on the director – who is not quite skilled enough to pull it off.

The Losers is certainly not a bad movie. I had a mildly enjoyable time watching the film – although it certainly is one of those films that fades from memory as soon as you hit the parking lot of the movie theater. But it isn’t a great one either. The film sets itself up for a sequel – but I really don’t see that happening at any point in the future.

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