The Losers Review
Most people have noticed a strange pattern when it comes to Studios releasing movies: however obscure the subject-matter, they often come in twos. Two asteroid-themed disaster flicks (Armageddon/Deep Impact), two mars-themed thrillers (Mission to Mars/Red Planet), two O.K. Corral Westerns (Tombstone/Wyatt Earp), two lava-themed disaster flicks (Dante's Peak/Volcano), or even two period-set magician movies (The Illusionist/The Prestige). The list is continually expanding. Now this might seem like a foolish decision, as the ticket sales for one seem to be at the expense of the other, but I've come around to thinking that it is quite a good thing for viewers - and maybe even for the Studios themselves. After all, most people find that they will enjoy one of the movies (if not both). And if they enjoy one enough, they may indeed be more tempted to track down the similarly-themed counterpart. There is, however - more often than not (at least in terms of Box Office takings) - a winner and a loser.
Clay(op control), Jensen(comms), Rogue(demo), Pooch(transpo) and Cougar(sniper) are all members of an elite CIA black-ops unit. Good friends and great teammates, their latest mission sees them in the Bolivian jungle, given the seemingly simple duty of lasing a target for a bomb drop. But when a group of children are escorted into the camp, and mission command refuse to belay the bombing run, the team are forced to put everything on the line to rescue the innocents. Betrayed by a mysterious voice-on-the-phone named 'Max', the unit are presumed dead and go into hiding in South America. But when a mysterious woman approaches them with a proposition that could not only see them able to return to home soil, but also enable them to get revenge against the people who did this to them, they welcome the opportunity with open hands. Even if they know it is more than likely going to be a suicide mission.
The Losers was everything The A-Team should have been. Made for a mere fifth of the budget (!!) it is a glossy, stylish, action film that does not try to box above its weight. It knows exactly what it is, and never pretends to be anything else. Sure, audiences would be advised to check a large chunk of their brain at the door, but in return for doing so, you will be rewarded by a fun little explosive ensemble actioner. Kick-starting with the mission-that-went-wrong opening tale for this bunch, things seldom let up between the fire-fights, fist-fights, ambushes and ground assaults that take place, the action very much at the forefront of the proceedings. And, for once, they got the slo-mo just right, the more kinetic sequences avoiding looking too much like cheesy montages and erring on the right side of just plain cool. Sure, the effects don't always stand up, but for a movie that was made for $25 Million you can forgive a fair amount, and - largely - the over-the-top style smoothes over these moments. The relatively new Director really has worked wonders to produce a film similar in quality to 2008's energetic Wanted and Joe Carnahan's flashy Smokin' Aces.
But it's not totally style over substance, because - whilst the plot is stalwart in its predictability (despite being based on a more complex graphic novel) - the ensemble cast of colourful characters really makes it all come together. If you didn't like these guys then it would make the whole thing a bit of a wasted exercise, but the cast of fresh-but-familiar up-and-coming actors play the whole thing pitch perfectly.
Watchmen's Jeffrey Dean Morgan was the perfect choice to head up the team (he's a Colonel, just like The A-Team's Hannibal as well), playing Clay as a grizzly, world-weary veteran, embittered by his experiences but resolute and unflinching in his professional command of the group. Morgan was one of the best things about Watchmen (not forgetting Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach), and it's clear he's good a playing tough anti-heroes. Here his part is much less morally ambiguous, but he still manages to give the characters an edge, and bristles with charisma. He's also cool as hell striding around in slow-motion with his black suit and twin machine-pistols. Seemingly coming out of nowhere to get a succession of prime roles (and deliver consistently scene-stealing performances) it'll be interesting to see where this man's career goes for here (especially with his participation in next year's Red Dawn remake).
Zoe Saldana, one of the first blue sex symbols (geektastic nod to Star Wars' Aayla Secura), is another upcoming new actress, who has rocketed to stardom off the back of two of the biggest blockbusters last year. Although she grated for me a bit as Uhura, she still fit well amidst the rest of the cast, and she made for quite a strong but vulnerable warrior woman in Avatar. Here she plays Aisha, the mysterious woman who tracks down the left-for-dead unit and seduces them back into action, and she hits all the right notes: both suitably sultry and surprisingly adept at kicking ass (her tussles with Clay echo Mr and Mrs Smith in their seductive brutal).
Within the team itself we get the ever-reliable Idris Elba as the somewhat shady demolitions expert, Roque. From his early days on Brit TV (he was in a short-lived but effective vampire series called Ultraviolet) to his standout performance in The Wire, the man seems content at nipping back and forth across the pond between US movies (Obsessed, The Unborn) and UK TV (his solid BBC crime drama Luther just finished airing). And he is pretty convincing, accent-wise, in either territory. Bringing his typical penetrating eyes, powerful voice and sheer presence to his role in The Losers, he may seem a little type-cast, but makes for a solid addition nonetheless.
Chris Evans is another massive rising star. Whilst the Fantastic Four films weren't exactly memorable, his banter with co-star Michael Chiklis made for probably the best bits; and with solid turns in a couple of underrated sci-fi movies under his belt (Sunshine and Push) he has finally got his Blockbuster lead as Captain America. I just hope he pulls it off without too much goofing around. Here, as Jensen, the communications expert, he works well in adding to the humour of the vehicle in what is really quite an against-type casting; his character's attempts to charm or be cool often falling flat and ending up as the butt of everybody else's jokes. His 'don't stop believing' scene, where he has a stand-off with three security guards using nothing but his fingers pointed at them like guns, is a nice little moment.
Rounding out the team we have Spanish actor Oscar Jaenada playing it silent and stoic as the cowboy-hat-wearing sniper, Cougar, and Quarantine's Columbus Short as Pooch, the mechanic and transportation specialist. Short really did not work as a leading man in the disappointing heist flick Armoured, but as one of the team he is on form, his likeable, desperate-to-get-home-to-his-wife character arguably having the funniest lines in the film, and working immensely well as a result. Respect should also be given to The Lost Boys' Jason Patric, who has never quite capitalised on the potential comeback that was Joe Carnahan's Narc. Here he works well as the mentally unstable but environmentally conscious uber-villain, Max (even if he does go too far into the realms of eccentricity a couple of times).
It's a great cast, the camaraderie unflinching, the characters they play not limited by 80s trademarks (as in The A-Team) and free to develop into a tough but likeable bunch in their own right. And without such a cast, and such enigmatic characters, the semi-smart, snappy dialogue would fall flat, and the action would lack any kind of gravitas or significance. You totally root for the losers, and you really want them to win, and - ultimately - they are what holds the whole film together.
Of course, both The Losers and The A-Team are potentially going to have to bow down to the upcoming Expendables movie, a special-ops-team-focussed actioner with an even bigger ensemble cast (Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Lundgren, Rourke...) that will certainly be superior in at least one respect: violence. Post-Bourne, we have seen that PG-13 movies can still pack a punch, and can still be quite dark, but with his graphically violent fourth Rambo entry, and now his new R-rated The Expendables, it seems Stallone is out to prove there is still a place for distinctly adult action-films. The Losers clearly has had its claws trimmed, but the fast-editing and snappy style often covers up these cuts (you can see at least a couple of neck-breaks that have been toned down, and there's no blood to any of the bullet impacts), so it really does not suffer too much. I think the dart-guns were used a little too often, but it does not stop the overall tone from being really quite adult. Fans of the graphic novel may be a little disappointed that none of the gratuitous violence made the transition to the Big Screen (most of the political, conspiracy-theorist, anti-Government musings fell by the wayside too, and - even condensed - this movie only tells half of the full Losers story, leaving the conclusion somewhat disappointingly open-ended) but the film really does well to feel like a more adult actioner even if it's been toned down for mass audiences.
For me, The Losers was an unexpected winner, one of the most enjoyably stylish, over-the-top action movies that I have seen in a while. With a superb ensemble cast (who play the colourful - and most importantly - likeable characters pitch-perfectly), pretty-much non-stop action throughout, a thumping soundtrack full of rocking songs that embolden the energetic proceedings, and a solid foundation in the decent graphic novel series that it was spawned from (and from which, hopefully, we might get a sequel), the only warning it comes with is a leave-your-brain-at-the-door caveat. Notwithstanding that fairly standard trademark of most action-movies, this is a resoundingly solid entry. It knows exactly what it is: big, dumb, fun. And if you're prepared to accept that, you can have an absolute blast.