It's no secret that comic book movies are big bucks today. In fact, the genre has become so popular that any comic-related property is on the fast track to the silver screen. At this point, studios are so eager to jump on the bandwagon that they will grab any comic, regardless of whether or not the general public has heard of it or could even recognize its origins. Such is the case with The Losers. While the film is based on a Vertigo comic, you'd never know it by watching the film, which aims to be another balls to the wall action extravaganza.
The Losers opens with a ragtag military unit disobeying orders when they are given the kill command to a South American compound that includes children. The team saves the kids from annihilation, only to watch their efforts go up in smoke as the escape helicopter containing the children is blown out of the sky by a corrupt CIA official known only as "Max" (Jason Patric). The team, made up of Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen), Roque (Idris Elba, The Wire, The Office), Jensen (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four, Sunshine), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), and Pooch (Columbus Short), hide out in Mexico and try to figure out a way back into the States. Clay is approached by Aisha (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Star Trek, Death At A Funeral) with a proposition: She'll get them back into the US if they kill Max for her. Clay, eager for revenge and intrigued by the gorgeous and dangerous Aisha, agrees. But getting to Max will be no easy task, and this mission may be too much even for The Losers.
The Losers has one big plus in its favor: Humor. The script by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt is frequently hilarious, giving all the characters (except Idris Elba, which is strange, given his work on The Office) a chance to stretch their comedic muscles. Chris Evans, already no stranger to playing comic relief, really shines here, getting almost all of the film's biggest laughs. Unfortunately, the flick sacrifices almost everything else at the altar of comedy, which would be fine, except thatThe Losers isn't really a comedy. It's meant to be an action movie with comic elements. The action could have been exciting and kinetic, but director Sylvain White (Stomp The Yard) is so busy trying to wow the audience with speed-ups, slow-downs, freeze-frames, jump cuts, and other stylistic trickery that the movie suffers. A few scenes, such as an armored bank heist and a game of chicken between a motorcycle and an airplane make it through and are suitably impressive, but such moments are few and far between.
It also seems that Berg and Vanderbilt were so busy writing jokes that they forgot to flesh out the characters. The team as a whole appears with no introduction, and each character only gets a brief written intro and the merest hint of a backstory. The film hints at more depth, with Roque and Clay in particular referring to many past missions (and Roque sports a tantalizing scar on his face that just begs for a prequel), but the movie glosses over such moments, eager to get to the next gag or set piece. Saldana's Aisha is the most fully formed, but even she comes off like a sketch, not a fully realized character.
I haven't read the original comic on which The Losers is based, and it is entirely possible that all of these issues are present in the source material. But that doesn't mean that the film couldn't have injected a little more into this threadbare production. And that's not the only problem, either. Jason Patric's Max, despite shooting everyone in sight at the merest whim, doesn't come off as threatening so much as he does annoying and patronizing. Max will not be entering the pantheon of great screen villains, that's for sure. And his evil plot, the biggest nod to comic book outrageousness we get in the film, is so bland as to inspire nothing but a yawn.
That being said, the rest of the group do turn in good performances. Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows off a very different side of himself than he did as The Comedian, while Zoe Saldana vamps it up as the slinky (and frequently scantily clad) Aisha. Columbus Short makes Pooch sympathetic, more so than Evans or Jaenada. In fact, the script short-changes Cougar the most, relegating him almost entirely to the background, except when he's needed to shoot bad guys from afar. Idris Elba's character is too one-note to really be enjoyable, which is a shame because Elba is capable of significant range.
Ultimately, The Losers isn't a bad movie, it's just a missed opportunity. With a little more work on the script, and a director who cared about character and story more than flash and bluster, the film could have been a really excellent revenge picture. Instead, it's a fitfully entertaining, stop and start, disjointed affair, and that's just a shame.