Warner Bros. // 2010 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 26th, 2010
"You know that if we do this, we are waging a war against the Central Intelligence Agency." -- Pooch
The Losers began as a War World II comic book series published by DC Comics throughout the 1970s and into the '80s. It was about a ragtag group of GIs taking on a series of impossible combat missions. The series was loosely reimagined in 2004 for DC's more adult-oriented Vertigo imprint by writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock. Set in the present day, the reboot of The Losers features a Special Forces team betrayed by their CIA handler, forced to globetrot and take on impossible missions in their quest to clear their names and return to the United States. Diggle and Jock's work was heavily influenced by Hollywood action movies, so it's only natural that The Losers would be adapted into a Hollywood action movie. Written by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and directed by Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard), The Losers landed in theaters in 2010 to mediocre box office response (it earned around $27 million in the U.S., on a $25 million production budget). Despite its disappointing receipts, it's a fun little movie. Perhaps it'll find a cult following in the home video market. This sparkling Blu-ray is a good start.
A Special Forces unit led by Lt. Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen) is ordered to identify the coordinates of a heavily-guarded compound owned by a powerful Bolivian drug lord so that the U.S. government can bomb the place into smithereens. When the team discovers that the drug lord is using children as mules, they attempt to call off the mission but are rebuffed by their CIA handler, Max (Jason Patric, The Lost Boys), who couldn't care less about killing innocents. Clay and his team -- communications and technology expert Jensen (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four); Pooch (Columbus Short, Whiteout), who is in charge of transport and heavy weapons; expert sniper Cougar (Óscar Jaenada, Che: Part Two); and tactical and demolitions guru Roque (Idris Elba, The Unborn) -- decide to rescue the children before the bombs are dropped. For their efforts, the boys are declared dead by the U.S. government and placed on a secret CIA hit list. Living as bums in Bolivia, the team is enlisted for a suicide mission by Aisha (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek (2009)), a tough-as-nails warrior with a grudge against Max. It seems that Max is attempting to purchase a "snuke," a cutting-edge weapon with the power of a nuclear bomb but none of the radioactive fallout. Max intends to use the weapon to start a war that will benefit the United States. He must be stopped and The Losers are just the men (and woman) to do it.
The Losers isn't a great movie, but it is great fun. Andy Diggle has said that in conceiving the comic book reboot he was heavily influenced by the mix of crisp comic dialogue and intense action sequences that are the specialty of screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). The Losers wears its love of Black on its sleeve, though with some of the jovial, light-hearted spirit of '80s hard PG actioners like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or The Goonies (part of me wishes The Losers was an old school R-rated action picture, but I think it's just as fun with the violence and language toned down a bit). The action throughout is fast-paced, acrobat, cleverly conceived, and shot and edited with a maximum of technical precision (even if the sequences often employ the shaky-cam aesthetics of action movies influenced by video games). Highlights include an elaborate takedown of an armored car, sexed-up fisticuffs between Clay and Aisha in a cheap Bolivian hotel room, a daring rescue as four members of the team are about to be executed, a tragic encounter between a motorcycle and a jet, and a bit of finger-gun mayhem. But The Losers' true charm isn't its kinetic action, but the dude-centric camaraderie among the team.
Team-up cinema classics from Seven Samurai to The Dirty Dozen have always relied on the energy generated by the interaction between clearly defined (primarily male) characters working together toward a common aim. The Losers breaks no new ground here, but it plays the conventions beautifully. Lt. Col. Clay is the suave and thoroughly experienced team leader (who wears a black suit instead of a military uniform). Clay's opposite number is Roque, a cynical hothead whose behavior is governed by amoral pragmatism. Aisha is a standard-issue female action-movie buttkicker, though imbued with an abundance of personality and athletic grace by Zoe Saldana. The team sniper, Cougar is the steely-eyed silent type. Pooch is a fast-talking and supremely confident mechanic and transport driver. But The Losers' stand-out personality is one Corporal Jake Jensen, a wise-cracking communications expert with spiky blond hair, John Lennon glasses, and a shaggy goatee. Chris Evans plays Jensen with such quick-witted intelligence and impeccable comic timing that one quickly realizes that Evans is one breakout film away from major stardom. In many ways, the other characters are defined by how they are set in relief against Jensen. Roque's cynicism comes out in his bristly exchanges with Jensen (especially during a comical helicopter theft sequence when Roque is playing a dead soldier and Jensen a spinal injury); Pooch's youth and energy come across in his fast-paced banter with his tech-savvy buddy; and Aisha's rebuffing of Jensen's sexual advances emphasizes her no-nonsense professionalism.
Action movies require villains as memorable as their heroes and Jason Patric delivers the goods as Max. Patric seems to have an easy job as he's given a boatload of truly funny lines, mostly delivered to his dullard sidekick Wade (played by Holt McCallany in full straight-man mode), but he navigates the role's challenges with such aplomb that it's easy to underestimate his skill. He plays Max with a self-awareness that underscores the movie's absurd plot and characters, while delivering each and every one of his lines with an undertone of controlled menace. Max may be quick with the one-liners, but Patric's performance also ensures that he comes across as a truly powerful and dangerous man, confident in his authority to do as pleases, regardless of the potential casualties. With the exception of Jensen, Max is the funniest character in the movie, but he's also believable as a villain capable of matching our heroes' prodigious skills and wealth of combat experience.
Warner Brothers presents The Losers on Blu-ray at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in a 1080p/VC-1 transfer. The image has the sort of excessive detail and unnaturally vivid color-timing that are the hallmarks of modern action flicks (at least The Losers' comic book source provides a rationale for these choices of style). Every wrinkle, pore, and bead of sweat is clearly visible on the actors' faces. Forest greens and school bus yellows leap off the screen. Black levels are deep, while shadow areas are subtle and perfectly delineated. The image is smooth the way only modern productions can be. There is little in the way of a grain structure, yet no sign of excessive use of digital noise reduction. Unless Sylvain White's stylistic choices bug you, you're bound to find this a very pleasing transfer. The only English audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio track in 5.1 surround that absolutely rocks when it needs to, yet also delivers clean dialogue and crisp music.
Supplements to the feature include a 40-second deleted scene and a handful of featurettes. "Zoe and The Losers" is a 5-minute piece about Saldana's experience being the lone female in an action movie full of guys. There are three production featurettes that cover the actors' training, the location shoot in Puerto Rico, and the action choreography: "Walk the Ops Walk," "Transforming Puerto Rico," and "Going Deep into the Action." Finally, "Action Style Storytelling" is a 10-minute sit-down with Andy Diggle and Jock in which the writer and artist talk about the genesis of their comic book reboot, its influences, and their opinions of its translation to film. All in all, the featurettes are thin and lacking in substance, though they may be of mild interest to viewers who had no knowledge of the comic book prior to watching the movie.
The disc is also BD-Live enabled.
With a plot involving corrupt agents of the CIA, The Losers could be far more politically subversive than it is. Of course, it wouldn't be the sort of energetic escapist fun that it is if it took time out to grind political axes. But Sylvain White's deft avoidance of political controversy renders the movie's MacGuffin -- the snuke sought by Max -- a ridiculous anachronism. The concept of an ecologically responsible weapon of mass destruction has potential for all sorts of biting political commentary, but that's not the sort of movie White made. The movie doesn't suffer an iota from the absence of political content (and probably benefits from it), but its makers should have replaced the snuke with a MacGuffin that doesn't draw attention to itself by virtue of its silliness.
The Losers is the movie that the Liam Neeson-starring adaptation of The A-Team wished it could be: fast-paced, light-hearted, funny, action-packed, and thoroughly enjoyable so long as you don't insist on taking it seriously. The Blu-ray may be light on extras, but the movie sure looks and sounds pretty.
Regardless of whatever trumped up charges the Central Intelligence Agency levels against The Losers, it is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Version
* Digital Copy