THE LOSERS Saves Action Flicks Without Superpowers

Comic Book Movie Decade - the Next 365

Quick, name the last standout action movie you saw that wasn't crammed with CG effects or superheroes?

With only a few exceptions, the action pic genre has struggled to regain its mojo ever since Arnold, Bruce, Mel and Sly finally “got too old for this s*@t!”  2010 may be the year it does. If that’s true, we could have a bunch of losers to thank for it.

The second comic book adaptation to hit theaters in consecutive weeks, The Losers is a first-rate action picture that brings the funny and the furious. The talented cast, armed with a script that is as acuminous as it is compact, glides along from one set piece to the next as if they’ve been working together for years.

Adapted from Andy Diggle and Jock’s comic series for DC/Vertigo, the straightforward story follows a quintet of Special Forces operatives for the U.S. military. Betrayed and left for dead after a botched mission to take out a Bolivian drug kingpin, the team makes plans to return to the states, clear their names and score some payback.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is Clay, the team leader; Idris Elba is Roque; Chris Evans is Jensen; Columbus Short as Pooch; and Oscar Jaenada is Cougar. Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar) is the mysterious and well-connected Aisha, a woman so dangerous “pretty much everyone but PETA wants her amscrayed.”

The team puts aside their suspicions and joins up with her because she has the resources the Losers need to get revenge on the man who tried to take them out.

That would be Max, a government spook who has gone off the reservation and started playing by his own rules. Jason Patric, perhaps energized by the idea of appearing in a movie people may actually see, lets it rip in his first turn as the bad guy.

Patric has never been funnier than he is as Max, a psycho dressed in Hamptons white, dripping with sarcasm and morbid humor. Max’s love-hate relationship with his top goon Wade (Holt McCallany) is one of the movie’s most entertaining sidebars.

Director Sylvain White keeps the pace fast and the mood light, even when the bullets are flying. And he doesn’t get cheated on the mayhem. For a movie that cost less than $40 million, there are some incredible action sequences. Two of the best are the opening scene in the jungle and an armored car ambush that takes place in Miami.

[Note: Most of the film was shot in Puerto Rico, using that country as a more affordable stand-in for the various international locales.]

White’s first (and until this film, only) feature directing effort, the dance drama Stomp the Yard, prepared him well. The guy knows how to stage an effective action scene, and unlike so many other directors, White presents the action in a way that actually lets the audience follow what’s going on.

He also takes it seriously. While the film has a certain and consistent irreverent tone, and its rated PG-13, when the shooting starts in The Losers, people actually die. This isn’t the A-Team, where 10,000 bullets fly and no one gets hit. These special Ops guys actually hit their targets  

Director of photography Scott Kevan’s sharp camera work and David Chacel’s stylish editing provide The Losers with a certain rhythm throughout, from the witty exchanges to the seductive hotel room slugfest between Morgan and Saldana’s characters.  The pacing is also on display during the gargantuan, extended dockside set piece that serves as the film’s big payoff.

As the disillusioned military man with a weakness for shady women, Morgan (Watchmen) delivers just the right amount of roguish charm. He’s also neck and neck with his P.S. I Love You co-star Gerard Butler for the best five o’clock shadow in Hollywood today.

Morgan and Saldana, who aces her third straight ‘girl you don’t want to mess with’ role, sizzle together, whether they’re beating the crap out of each other or having sex. Elba, as Clay’s short-fused lieutenant, is edgy and more than a little menacing.

As Jensen and Pooch, Chris Evans and Columbus Short have an onscreen bromance worthy of its own reality show. Short gets some of the film’s funniest lines (“I’m the black MacGyver. Blacgyver!”), while Evans gets to show off the charm and charisma hinted at during the two Fantastic Four movies. Those who questioned his casting as Captain America may not be as concerned after seeing his turn in The Losers.

If anyone gets shortchanged in terms of character development, it’s Jaenada. But the film is only 95 minutes long, so something had to give. As the team’s eagle-eyed sniper Cougar, Jaenada can console himself with the fact that he’s the triggerman in the movie’s two coolest moments (if you’ve seen any of the various trailers, then you know which scenes I’m talking about).

The Losers isn’t perfect. There are several plot 'conveniences' and Saldana's character demands the occasional suspension of disbelief. There are also some unnecessary editing transitions that mimic comic book panels.

But those are minor missteps. Overall, The Losers is a big win for fans of high-octane action pictures who like their heroes to make mistakes, get beat up, shot, and still be able to laugh about it.

Who says they don’t make ‘em like they used to?

The Losers opens in theaters everywhere Friday, April 23

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