Theatrical Review: THE LOSERS

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
April 23rd, 2010

Rating: 3/5

Writers: Peter Berg & James Vanderbilt (screenplay), Andy Diggle (characters)
Director: Sylvain White
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short
Studio: Warner Bros.

The comparisons between the film adaptation of THE LOSERS and the upcoming cinematic take on THE A-TEAM probably won’t stop anytime soon, but Sylvain White’s flick based on the Vertigo series should actually surprise viewers expecting short shrift comic book entertainment. The film doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to its already hugely mined and marketed genre, but it’s more than just passably fun and entertaining, it’s a solid entry into mid-level summer blockbuster territory (albeit, a couple of months early).

Our titular LOSERS start off as anything but – a crack team of Special Forces and CIA agents who complete missions that no one else can. But the team gets screwed (hard) by a faceless foe who doesn’t realize that Lt. Col. Franklin Clay and his merry band of specialized military men have a conscious that inhibits them from mindlessly carrying out orders. The Losers are so good because they don’t just put finger to trigger and pull, but that’s also what gets them into hot water – “hot water” that ends up with them presumed dead, framed for a horrible crime, shunned by their country, and desperate for revenge on the one man responsible. Oh, it’s also fun!

The recent trend has, of course, placed a premium on crafting comic book films with larger-than-life characters that have name recognition across demographics – the big “men”: Batman and Spider-man and Iron Man and Superman – while also searching for more universal themes (thank or blame THE DARK KNIGHT, whichever side of the debate you may fall on). But not every comic book film has to be a big, ballsy affair that also serves as some sort of thorough upbraiding of society, rife with deeper meanings and landmark characters and enough fodder for debate to keep both fanboys and serious films of cinema happy and debating for years – some comic book films can just be fun. And THE LOSERS is popcorn cinema that is fun to watch, not a think piece by any stretch, but not something so dumbed down that you feel nearly abused for having watched it.

Like most comic book films, even people who have never flipped a page in the Vertigo series should be able to pick out precise moments inspired by specific panels. THE LOSERS occasionally over-stylizes these moments, but I’m sure they’ll keep aficionados of the comic book series pleased and engaged. The special effects of the film (particularly when it comes to explosives) stray to the side of cheesy (including some final reel pows with a private plane), but the rest of the action generally makes up for it. The fight scenes, with and without weapons, are often impressive. The Losers pull some real tricks when it comes to battling things out, crafty enough to be funny, too.

From my cursory research regarding the source material for THE LOSERS, most of the casting for the film seems pretty spot-on. The only sticking points may be the involvement of the world’s newest comic adaptation go-to guy, Chris Evans, as hacker Jensen, and Zoe Saldana’s turn as badass Aisha al-Fadhil. Neither seem to go full-tilt with their characters – is Evans believable as computer genius, is Saldana able to really tap into Aisha as true loose cannon? Nope, but the film clips along well enough to make these not-perfect casting choices less noticeable than they may be in bigger films (hello, Maggie Gyllenhaal in THE DARK KNIGHT). As leader Clay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan may not have the box office recognition of other starring options, but he’s got enough punch and swagger to be believable as the lead of a band of ex-CIA roughnecks. However, the real star of THE LOSERS has to be Jason Patric’s hilarious scene-chewer of a nemesis, Max. Though Patric isn’t rough-and-tumble enough to feel like a true physical threat, he’s definitely unhinged with a necessary dose of wackadoo to make Max a pretty hilarious “evil mastermind.”

The film clocks in at a snappy ninety-eight minutes, which sometimes makes the movie feel almost too tight. Exposition is giving out somewhat off-handedly, with characters who may have felt like random baddies ultimately playing bigger parts in the motivations and machinations of some of our principal players. It’s certainly better than the converse – a bloated film that plays too much on backstory, so it’s an excusable misstep. And while the film starts with a humanitarian tragedy, it’s more to endear us to the supposed moral fiber of our titular “losers,” not as some statement meant to elevate the film beyond enjoyable summer flick entertainment.


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