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Review: 'The Losers'

A smorgasbord of nothingness

Posted: April 29, 2010 3:26 p.m.
Updated: April 30, 2010 6:00 a.m.

From left, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Columbus Short, Idris Elba and Oscar Jaenada are shown in a scene from, "The Losers." The line at the concession stand probably has more tension.

 

Deadly only in its dullness, the coma-inducing, comic-book-adapted action flick "The Losers" aims to serve as a placeholder until "Iron Man 2" arrives with the summer's heavy artillery.

That "The Losers" and its ragtag band of Special Forces operatives fail to achieve even that modest goal speaks to the filmmakers' utter lack of imagination as well as the busy smugness with which they offer their smorgasbord of nothingness.

What's interesting about the movie has more to do with the people involved than the mess they've splattered mostly off screen. (The film's PG-13 mixture of bloodless violence and unseen killings seems almost quaint now in the wake of the gonzo brutality seen in last week's comic book headliner, "Kick-Ass.")

"The Losers" comes from the caffeinated DC/Vertigo comic series by writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock. Diggle calls the comics his "man-crush love letter to Shane Black," the highly paid screenwriter behind the "Lethal Weapon" movies.

That man-crush was likely shared by Peter Berg ("Hancock"), who adapted Diggle's comic with writer James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac"), Berg's collaborator on the 2003 tongue-in-cheek jungle adventure "The Rundown."

These guys are capable writers, comfortable in the genre. So what happened? Instead of producing a heady homage to slick, ‘80s action movies or a winking salute to Sam Peckinpah and his wild bunch of losers or even a faithful adaptation of a serviceable comic, Berg and Vanderbilt have watered down the material to the point of irrelevance.

We first meet our Special Forces agents in the Bolivian jungle where they're on a search-and-destroy mission to take out a nasty drug lord. Each Loser has a single name (Clay, Cougar, Pooch, Jensen and Roque) and exactly one defining characteristic (in order named: brooder, cowboy hat guy, family guy, wacky T-shirt guy, brooder who doesn't like the other brooder).

The mission goes bad. A bunch of cute ragamuffins are killed in the most perfunctory manner possible. The Losers get mad and vow revenge, going after the American-flag-lapel-pin-wearing CIA "super spook" (Jason Patric channeling Goldfinger) who engineered the betrayal.

Director Sylvain White ("Stomp the Yard") tries hard to give the thin material a kind of tossed-off casualness, hoping the explosions and heavy-metal soundtrack will fill the empty spaces of the convoluted plot. It's all noise, no substance. The line at the concession stand probably has more tension than what's happening inside the theater.

As the team's leader, Jeffrey Dean Morgan comes off as a budget-version George Clooney. Better is Chris Evans, cast against type as the nerdy computer specialist. Evans has a nice touch with the recycled banter and delivers the movie's funniest moment with a spot-on version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

Geek It Girl Zoe Saldana ("Avatar") is on board, too, fighting, shooting, disrobing, usually at the same time. The movie's one great image has Saldana silhouetted on top of a mountain of cargo containers, a missile launcher at the ready. What's she doing here? Well, as Tom Petty sings, even the losers get lucky sometimes.

"The Losers," a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for scenes of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and language. Running time: 98 minutes.

One and a half stars out of four.

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