What's in a title? A lot, I suppose. You have to admit, it takes guts to call your movie The Losers. You're just begging for the bad jokes. Someone start a count, how many critics use the line "In this case, the losers are the audience"? (That one was a freebie.) It's also a pre-built cop-out. "What did you expect? They were called 'the losers'!" Another thing you can count: how many times the writers reference the title in this film. It's in the first scene. "Hey, you losers!" And then it keeps coming.
Not that the movie is as bad as all that. For a movie as over-the-top and clichéd as The Losers, it's surprisingly meek. It's the tale of five special ops army dudes who get screwed over by a mysterious figure named "Max," a super evil genius played with particular past-its-sell-by-date relish from Jason Patric. Max frames the boys for the murder of a Bolivian drug lord and twenty-five children that are on his estate for reasons we can only guess. (Seriously, no one tells us.) This puts the fellas underground and on the run. Their ranks include Pooch (Columbus Short), the vehicles expert; Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), a sniper of few words; Jensen (Chris Evans), computer hacker; Roque (Idris Elba), the badass; and the leader, Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the ladies man with a heart of gold. These guys are the losers because they are always on the short end of whatever stick is poking them.
The crew is trapped down in South America with no way to come up for air until the super hot and super deadly Aisha (Zoe Saldana) comes along and hires them to help her take down Max. Sadly, she doesn't enter the scene to a music cue of "Iesha," the hit single from Another Bad Creation. There are a lot of on-point music cues in The Losers, and someone really dropped the ball on that one. Anyway, she won't say why she hates Max and Clay doesn't care, because every time there is trouble, he can look at Aisha's butt when she scurries for trouble. I haven't seen action-movie ass shots so blatant since Kate Beckinsale bent over in Whiteout. Not that I'm complaining, mind you....
The Losers is directed by Sylvain White, whose previous credits include I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer and Stomp the Yard. Unsurprisingly, these did not prepare him for directing an action movie, though some of his random stylistic tics, like stuttering the image according to the beat, might have worked well in a dance-off. The writing team has a far more convincing pedigree. The script is credited to Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, respectively the director of and a screenwriter on The Rundown. The men have a nice eye for plot, they know what pieces they need, even if they aren't too worried about how plausible the connectors between them are. They also have an ear for dialogue that sounds like it's been listening to far too many bad TV shows from the 1980s. Inevitably, The Losers is going to be compared to The A-Team, and it's not a comparison that is totally unfair.
Unlike the forthcoming big-screen version of The A-Team, The Losers is not based on some faux Nick-at-Nite nostalgia. It's actually based on a fairly well-respected comic book series written by Andy Diggle and drawn by an artist named Jock, whose art is all over the credits sequences (also: see the cover of Criterion's Drunken Angel). DC/Vertigo published 32 issues of this incarnation of The Losers between 2003 and 2006, but I have never read them, so I cannot say how accurately the material has been translated to the screen. I do know that there will be people out there who will use the silly character motivations and ludicrous violence to decry "comic book movies," as if the comics industry somehow invented or had an exclusive license on stupidity. These are people who conveniently forget the entire career of Jason Statham. The Losers hankers to be an old-school actioner, with a group of wise-cracking buddies pulling off outrageous stunts yet never managing to get out from behind the eight ball. Where's Steve McQueen when you need him? Then again, if he were alive, he'd probably be stuck making a cameo in The Expendables. No one escapes Stallone.
In that goal, The Losers intermittently succeeds. Some of the manly banter is funny, and Chris Evans gets one fantastic scene involving Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" that, had better people been behind the wheel, would have been the point where this trip made a turn for the good. A few of the action sequences have a thrilling energy, and even when they stray into the realm of the implausible, they at least are never as ridiculous as everything we see in the trailer for the aforementioned A-Team movie. The core group of actors makes a good faith effort to have fun with the roles, and are all pretty likable. Only Jason Patric doesn't seem to know where his boundaries should be. He plays the kind of mad supervillain that comics readers wearied of long ago. I'd almost think he was making fun of the material if he wasn't so damned serious about it. He's just too intense an actor for a movie this light. Had he exhibited this side of himself earlier, he could have had Nicolas Cage's career.
Then again, maybe Patric was on to something. If The Losers wasn't going to go all the way smart, like Star Trek or one of the Ocean's films, then maybe it should have gone all the way stupid like The Transporter. Then it would at least succeed at garnering a strong opinion. It's not a terrible movie, it's just that it's not terribly good, and that takes us right back to the beginning. These guys just aren't going to win, but if you can't succeed, at least fail epically. Because if you don't, the true losers end up being the audience. Wait! What just happened?! Son of a--
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.