The filmmakers have some critical hits to their credit (Stomp the Yard, The Kingdom). Hoping for the best, Kimberly Gadette wonders: can The Losers score a win?
Studio Exec #1: "We can't call it The Losers."
Studio Exec #2: "But that's the name of the original 2003-2006 comic book series. We need the brand name recognition."
Studio Exec #1: "I repeat: we can't call it The Losers. It's like handing each critic a loaded gun and telling him/her to fire at the screen at will."
Studio Exec #2: "Will? I don't remember anyone named Will. In any event, you're assuming the critics won't appreciate the subtle shadings of intrinsic irony."
Studio Exec #1: "Jesus, you're dim. They're bloodthirsty critics, for chrissake! It's a horrible movie! The leading man looks like he's the ingénue's great-uncle, the villain can't act his way out of that idiotic glove he's got on his left hand, and the script consists of one overly long, ridiculous shoot-out. We cannot call it The Losers!
Studio Exec #2 (suddenly delighted): "Oh yes we can, and I'll tell you why. We'll be applauded for our compliance in upholding the laws of truth-in-advertising."
Studio Exec #1: "Damn. It's a long shot, but it just might work."
Given the bomb that is this film, was it necessary to invest that much more for all those additional explosives?
A five-member Special Forces unit is dispatched to the Bolivian jungle to supervise the eradication of some evil drug guy. But that's only part of the story; it turns out that Max (Jason Patric), their mysterious boss who they've only heard and never seen (paging Charlie of Charlie's Angels: is that you?) has another agenda. He hopes to either kill them all or pin the accidental death of twenty-five innocent children on their heads. They have no choice but to go underground, hoping, one day, to find Max and vindicate themselves. Along comes secretive spy-girl Aisha (Zoë Saldana) who will give them money and transport them back to the States – if they agree to kill Max for her. Sounds like a perfect plan all around.
Speaking of all around, that's exactly where the team travels, the titles of each new location writ large across the screen in proud announcement, as if the filmmakers actually invented the places themselves. Dubai! New Mexico! Miami! You know, we could all just read a map and be done with it.
The story is a string of noisy espionage nonsense. Such as: when Aisha first approaches team leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), she is charming and seductive, and in no time he takes her back to his hotel room. She obviously wants something from him ... so why spend the next fifteen minutes resolutely trying to kill him? It's a proven fact: corpses make lousy co-conspirators. They can't even do a decent double cross.
Then there's the bomb that will surely explode and wipe out most of mankind if the villainous Max releases his finger from the button of the remote control device. He proceeds to throw the device into the ocean. It's a toss-up as to which holds less water: the fact that no bomb explodes, or the fact that Clay dives into the Pacific Ocean and resurfaces seconds later, the device in his hand.
The casting is slightly disturbing. While most of the five-man elite team look to be in their late twenties, Morgan's Clay seems rather like their dad. While Sean Connery can (arguably) get away with seducing women decades younger, Morgan doesn't have the charisma or the iconic stature needed to carry it off. Hence, when Saldana and Morgan share steamy moments, though we might wish for a shower, it's not because we need to cool off – rather, it's a futile desire to scrub the ick factor thoroughly from our minds.
And then there's Patric as the villain, seemingly trying to find the crazy-eyed killer within. Unfortunately, try though he might, there simply is no crazy-eyed killer within. Even though he hopes to mete out punishment to one and all, his portrayal of a global madman wannabe is flat and utterly painful to observe. Which brings us full circle: having to watch his attempt is its own brand of punishment.
While team members played by Idris Elba and Columbus Short could have done a lot more if they'd been given half a chance, it is only Chris Evans' Jensen who injects any substantial spark into the proceedings. He recycles a bit of his wacky Johnny Storm persona from Fantastic Four, the levity a welcome change from all the grim posturings and armaments blazing here, there and everywhere.
Neither energized comic book fun nor substantive drama, The Losers still manages to get a big thumbs up ... for choosing a title that couldn't be more fitting.
Rating on a scale of 5 not-so-special ops: 1.5
Release date: US: 23 April 2010; UK: 28 May 2010
Directed by: Sylvain White
Screenplay by: Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt
Based on the comic book series by: Andy Diggle
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoë Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric
Rating: US = PG-13; UK = 12A
Running time: 98 minutes