The saying goes, "it pays to know your limits," and that's probably true. There's something to be said for dreaming the impossible dream, but I'm guessing that trying to take a 100-mile trip on a 50-mile tank of gas is exactly as unfulfilling as it sounds. However, a movie like The Losers is meant to be over-the-top, to push the limits and see how far they bend. I went in expecting ludicrous plans, impossible action, and larger-than-life explosions. What I got, sadly, was a movie all about limits: limited budget, limited scope, limited creativity, and limited effort. The movie's far from a disaster, but it falls short of the B-movie glory it's looking to steal from Fox's upcoming A-Team movie or Stallone's testosterone-packed Expendables.
Since the movie crams all of its straightforward "elite military team gets betrayed, seeks revenge" setup into the movie pre-title sequence, I'll be more than happy to concede that the story isn't the point of The Losers, and to the movie's credit, it slips in a fair amount of characterization (if not full-fledged character development) in-between one-liners, even if the characters are just fill-in-the-blanks, like the Old Friends/Partners (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba), The Nerd (Chris Evans), The Token Black Guy (Columbus Short), and the Silent Minority (Óscar Jaenada). Unfortunately, the film's first problem rears its ugly head right at the beginning: the PG-13 rating. Director Sylvain White seems to be out there trying to champion the idea of PG-13 action; not only did he insist the rating was his idea and not the studio's, but he says he wants the same rating for his gestating adaptation of Frank Miller's Ronin. In theory, it's a nice idea, and I'll give him credit for the movie's love scene, which is shot with enough panache that it feels organic within its "strongly cautioned" state. But the action always feels like it's pulling its punches, awkwardly shying away from the movie's many gunshots (with at least one exception later in the film, there may be a bit of give-and-take going on here).
Once the plot balls are rolling (the "seeks revenge" half), things perk up a bit with a reasonably entertaining heist sequence involving helicopters and Yugos, but the film is hampered by predictability. A mysterious benefactor (er, make that Mysterious Benefactor) named Aisha (Zoe Saldana) who may not be who she says she is! Long-standing grudges coming to a head! Slow-motion team shots! The best part of all this (and, in fact, the best part of the movie) is Evans. Whether he's bolting through a lobby at top speed, wearing a bright yellow delivery outfit and bellowing "Don't Stop Believin'" at the top of his lungs, completely failing to appear injured, or trying "where you from" pick-up schtick on Aisha, he's very funny and very likable -- the exact opposite of everything I thought about him in the first Fantastic Four film (it's a grudge I'm slowly getting over. Sunshine helped, and this does too).
Meanwhile, on a different planet, Jason Patric tries his best to channel the right type of B-movie villain, but ends up just looking schizophrenic and slightly irritated. His character, Max, has a hilariously silly scheme that will, of course, make him millions (despite already having more than enough money to hop the globe), but it feels so set apart from the rest of the movie, it barely registers as a threat. Not that it's very likely that The Losers would actually lose, but it doesn't exactly get pulses racing when the viewer is still not entirely sure the movie's supposed doomsday demonstration could have actually happened. even within the world of a film based on a comic book. At least the bit looks good. The rest of the CG in the movie (mostly reserved for explosions), is unrelentingly awful. I usually don't complain much about CG, because for some weird reason, I happen to like the aesthetic of most CG, but the effort here is bad enough that it singlehandedly ruins a couple of the movie's more entertaining moments.
The things that work in The Losers suggest that the movie could have been bigger, could have been more, but without a real megastar in the cast or a household property to hang the ads on, Warner Bros. apparently didn't have enough faith to go R, to go overboard, to go bigger. Amazingly, the movie is also limited in the opposite way as well: a lack of faith doesn't necessarily equal a lack of dollar signs to a movie studio, and everyone was careful to leave room to turn The Losers into a franchise, which stops the movie short of a few basic plot-resolution satisfactions. I'm split on whether or not I'd like to see more. The basic idea and assembled cast can no doubt amount to a better movie, but going by the one that exists, it's hard to believe a sequel would be more likely to achieve either one's full potential. There will be a lot of win/lose puns in reviews this week, but I don't think The Losers is either one. It's more like a participant.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.