People may remember the summer of 2010 as the season of action teams. We got "The Losers," "The A-Team," and "The Expendables" all within a month or so of each other. Although history will judge which one of them holds up best, my guess is that "The Losers" will probably figure as the odd man out. Nevertheless, as a pure action-adventure flick, it has its moments.
Written by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt and based on the DC Comics/Vertigo characters created by Andy Diggle, "The Losers" tells the story of a band of CIA black ops double-crossed and left for dead by somebody higher up in the organization. The team's new job: Find out who betrayed them and tried to get them killed.
The thing is, the movie has one of those ensemble casts that pose difficulties. It means the audience needs to get to know, maybe even identify and sympathize with, a relatively large number of people, half a dozen or so, in order to care about them. Ensemble casts are what have always made the most-popular television shows work: "77 Sunset Strip," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "M*A*S*H," "The Rockford Files," "Taxi," "Seinfeld," "CSI," "21," "Fringe," "Warehouse 13." But television allows producers the luxury of letting audiences get to know characters over a period of many months, sometimes many years, and many shows. With a movie, however, the filmmakers have only a single two-hour block to establish the characters, their relationships to one another, and their personalities. When filmmakers also have to deal with an actual plot and its attendant action, it can become an overwhelming task for any director to accomplish, let alone one as inexperienced as Slyvain White ("Stomp the Yard," and the video "I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer").
So, do we care about any of the folks in this movie? Not really. The most we can do is see them for what they are: comic-book characters who are virtually indestructible. Therefore, we look at the team as a single entity, an exclusive unit, which we can largely ignore, freeing us up to concentrate on the action. And that's not really such a bad thing, since this is a comic-book adventure, after all, and the action is nonstop.
Not that the film doesn't make at least some attempt to help us differentiate the characters by introducing us to them from the outset. We meet Jensen (Chris Evans), the happy-go-lucky, wisecracking tech and communications expert; Roque (Idris Elba), the ornery demolitions and tactical expert; Pooch (Columbus Short), the nice-guy family man, transportation and heavy-weapons expert; Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), the quiet, inscrutable, long-range eliminations expert; and Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the team leader, the "operational control." They are the covert crew left for dead in the jungles of Bolivia after a mission to destroy a drug kingpin's stronghold goes awry. How do we know it's Bolivia? Because as in the TV series "Fringe," we see giant name signs for every location on the sides of mountains and buildings.
The perpetrator of the story's mayhem is a baddie named "Max" (Jason Patric), a psychotic CIA honcho who travels with about 800 armed guards and considers himself a superpatriot for wanting to start wars with other countries. The female lead is Aisha (Zoe Saldana), a beautiful, mysterious, ass-kicking interloper with a business proposition for the team if they will help her find Max.
How good are the heroes? They begin by saving a group of children (shades of John Wayne) from the aforementioned drug lord, just before Max and his evil henchmen come after all of them. Little do the villains know that Losers die hard.
In its favor, "The Losers" moves along at a commendable pace. The viewer has little time to complain about anything because so much happens so quickly on the heels of the preceding action. More important, much of the action is lighthearted, with a good deal of humor in unlikely spots. Then, too, the actors seem to be having fun, the look of the film remains slick and tidy at all times, and there are some cute moments in the closing credits.
On the downside, there's so much commotion in "The Losers," it's hard to care about any single character or event. Furthermore, much of the violence in the film appears gratuitous, existing only for its own sake, like an extended fight scene between Clay and Aisha when they first meet. There is also a great deal of posing and posturing in the film, some of it parodying other pictures, to be sure, but some of it getting tiresome, too. Lastly, it's all very predictable, with most of the goings on telegraphed a mile in advance.
Still, "The Losers" has a goofy, balletic spirit that saves it from itself, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chris Evans in particular give it a sprightly, carefree lift. As a simpleminded action flick, it's kind of fun, actually.
The dual-layer BD50, VC-1 transfer probably reproduces the movie on disc the way it's supposed to look, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. We find good clarity, detail, and definition, and very deep black levels involved in the disc production. We also find colors that look extremely bright and intense, with every hue practically glowing. The colors are, in fact, very much like a comic book, and not at all realistic. I suppose that was the director's intent, take it or leave it. I could have left the occasionally shimmering lines, that's for sure.
It's bang, boom, pow from the outset with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that's big, bold, dynamic, and immersive. We hear excellent transient response, strong impact, deep bass, and widespread aural effects like bullets, bombs, and shattering glass in all the front, side, rear, and center speakers. A pounding, nerve-shattering musical score by composer John Ottman accompanies almost every move, so beware.
Interestingly, nearly all the extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray edition, with the DVD getting about zilch. It's almost as if Warner Bros. were trying to push people into buying Blu. Anyway, we get a batch of featurettes on the high-def disc, most of them promoting rather than illuminating the movie. First up is "Zoe and The Losers," about six minutes with actress Zoe Saldana and her interactions with the rest of the cast. Then there is a three-part featurette, "Band of Buddies: Ops Training," that includes "Walk the Ops Walk," six minutes on the cast and characters; "Transforming Puerto Rico," five minutes on production in that country; and "Going Deep into the Action," six minutes on the stunts and special effects. Then we find a separate featurette, "The Losers: Action-Style Storytelling," about ten minutes with the writers and filmmakers. After that is a Sneak Peek First Look at the animated film "Batman: Under the Red Hood," about thirteen minutes; and a deleted scene, less than a minute but quite revealing.
The regular bonus items conclude with sixteen scene selections; several trailers at start-up; BD-Live access; a cardboard slipcase; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Finally, since this is a Blu-ray Combo Pack, we get the movie in high def on a Blu-ray disc, in standard def on a DVD, and again in standard def as a digital copy for iTunes or Windows Media (the offer expiring July 18, 2011).
If it's a pure action adventure you're looking for, with little attention to characterization, motivation, thought, or sense, "The Losers" is as action-packed and mindless as they come, the quintessential "DAM" (Dumb Action Movie). Fortunately, the actors never take any of it too seriously, the director maintains a steady forward momentum, and the writers spice things up with enough gleeful quips to make it all go down relatively smoothly, if, you understand, you don't expect any too much from the film in the first place.