The Losers

Director: Sylvain White
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jason Patric
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)

The Losers is fun, despite every element except except the casting being disastrously inept. There is no reason this movie should be even watchable, but if you have a stomach for loud violence, you’ll find a charm that exceeds the film’s mismatched, duct-taped parts.

Let’s start with Sylvain White’s direction. The guy makes this movie look like a video game, and I’m willing to admit that a PG-13 action movie is probably made more for the first-person-shooter generation than it is for me. So if you like your action scenes all helter-skelter and backed by loud, annoying metal bands, the first batch of fight scenes in this film are for you. But even the filmmakers know that’s a crap technique, because by the end of the film, when the action matters, they ditch the no-name noise bands for a typical symphonic score. Sylvain also has no feeling for character, and does absolutely nothing with his camera to make up for the inadequacies of his script.

If there was a script. A couple of writers are credited here, but maybe the final draft didn’t get collated right. Nothing makes sense, and the writers don’t even try. Like the 2003 comic the film is based on, the movie jumps from action sequence to action sequence and only makes the most superficial attempts (sometimes) to connect them, or to make sense.

The worst sin in the writing is the most significant change from the comic. Writer Andy Diggle also created a story with big action and little character, and also had a shadowy CIA agent as the bad guy—an operative so deep-dark that even his agency doesn’t know he’s there. But Diggle grounded his story in fairly real notions: The CIA running drugs for money, fomenting war and revolution for U.S. business interests, shipping guns to cherry-picked insurgent groups. You know, the evil stuff our government has been documented to have done for 50-odd years. Here, the evil “Max” is obtaining a “sonic disruptor” weapon that makes whole islands vaporize, simply wink out of existence. The choice strips a layer of realism from the movie, and perhaps signals the filmmaker’s intent to staple together a hodgepodge of far-fetched action sequences rather than tell a story that follows its own logic, much less makes any real-world sense.

Yet gradually, the viewer may warm to the actors. Lord knows they’re not given enough to work with, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian from last year’s The Watchmen is pretty damned charming, and Zoe Saldana makes a fine action heroine. Chris Evans, the Fantastic Four cast member destined to play Captain America for the rest of his life, absolutely shines as one of the black-ops bandits. On the other hand, as part of the movie’s decision to back away from any real idea of a CIA bad guy, Jason Patric plays Max so over-the-top, with all the idiocy given him in the script, that the thing starts feeling like bad ’80s action TV.

I’m not saying the film should’ve attempted ponderous political statement and realism like The Green Zone assayed. The commitment to fun is laudable, and it’s pulled off. But White’s love of slow-mo and freeze frame mark him as a hack, and the two-dimensional, incomprehensible script don’t speak well of the writers. Somewhere in my notes from halfway through the screening, I wrote that the director and writers would appear to never have observed human behavior of any kind.

So why is this not a one-star movie? Why did I kind of like it, when the equally staggering incompetence of After.Life made me want to hang myself? (My girlfriend, less a fan of action or of Hollywood schlock than I, liked it even more than I did. Maybe that’s the Chris Evans factor …) There was a point at the end, where double-crosses and rocket launchers and all kinds of stupidity are piling so high, with such glee, that I was reminded of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. That film took wall-to-wall stupid and made classic, stunning genius of it. This movie doesn’t do that, but with a higher action budget and less wit and charm, it kinda tries for the same territory. In a year where the A-Team is getting it’s own movie, that might even be enough.