The Losers, 2010
Cast: Zoe Saldana, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Chris Evans, Columbus Short, Jason Patric
After being betrayed and left for dead, members of a CIA black ops team root out those who targeted them for assassination.
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A lot of time and paper has been spent by a lot of critics talking about the death of cinematic story-telling in the post-"Jaws" post-MTV world. Especially MTV, as it institutionalizes short term high impact story telling over linked, thought out narrative turning more and more movies into just a collection of descent scenes that aren't connected to each other.
For the most part I distrust generalizations like that; on pressing usually there are more exceptions to the rule than obedient followers of it. But that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of movies every year that suffer from that problem to one extent or another, and "The Losers" is a good example of that problem.
Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his men are the US Army's best Special Forces team; they do the dirty jobs that need to get done. But when an operation in Bolivia goes spectacularly, horribly, burning-children-body-parts-falling-out-of-the-sky wrong they have to take it on the run and find out who the mysterious CIA operative is who turned on them and how to get their lives back.
At its best the adaptation of Andy Diggle and Jock's comic book is an extremely self-aware irreverent take on the ensemble action film which constantly comments on the rules and clichés of the genre while simultaneously following them. A sort of post-modern action film.
And it frequently is at its best. Rather than being overly cute or hopelessly lame the dialog is often clever and witty, recognizing how silly its situations are without lessening them. Most of these moments are centered on Chris Evans' motor mouth tech expert Jensen and Jason Patric's arch villain, Max.
Evans has already gotten some experience in the "Fantastic Four" films at the wise-ass goofball and he's just about got it down to a science by now. It plays to his strength and lets the star power he has come out in a way his more serious attempts like "Sunshine" or "Street Kings" never have. He also gets a lot of the best, most ridiculous dialog and characteristics from writer Peter Berg ("Hancock") and his "Rundown" cohort James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac"). You've got to love a tough guy soldier type who runs around in a pink girl's soccer shirt.
The rest of the best is saved for Patric who also very wisely gives up his historical brooding presence to embrace his inner smart ass. Max is the epitome of the techno-villain, a patent James Bond villain, and he knows it. He continuously stops, after a moment of particularly ludicrous evilness to make certain the audience knows exactly how silly it all is. And it works nearly flawlessly, starting with a fantastic introduction as he berates an underling for throwing a victim off a roof when he just meant for him to get roughed up a little.
The script is often well backed up by director Sylvain White's ("Stomp the Yard") hyperactive action sequences that often try and match the script in terms of silliness and self-reflection. It sounds like it could be extremely obnoxious but when it's on, it's on. Most action movies don't have the guts to play out a set piece to Journey.
But. When it's not on (and it doesn't work about as frequently as it does) it's about as banal a piece of action thriller as has ever been made. As much time as it spends pointing out the ridiculousness of most action clichés, it spends actively perpetuating the same clichés without any sense of irony whatsoever.
The dialogue, as clever as it can be, vacillates sharply between engaging and boring, and most anyone not names Evans or Patric is hopelessly stiff, mainly because they're given little or no help by the material. Columbus Short gives it his best shot, but Elba and Morgan seem to be in a contest to see who can sound least motivated in delivering their lines.
That could just be because they're dialogue tends to be the worst, unfunny, bland and repetitive. This is doubly unfortunate because most of the dramatic tension is ladled onto Clay. Or I should say it's mostly attempted to be, as there is nothing overtly dramatic about anything Clay says or does. A lot of it doesn't seem particularly connected to what came before it after, as White's film is all trees and no forest. He is very good at staging individual scenes but seems to be lost at turning them into an overall narrative.
There's little dramatic tension and by the end even Max starts to get annoying as it becomes obvious he is a one trick pony with no other dimensions.
On the whole though, the bad in "The Losers" isn't particularly memorable (which is why it's the bad) and the good is, which is a pretty big saving grace. There is a very good idea for an action movie in there, but just one and no one seems to know what to do once it's exhausted.