Sylvain White’s adaptation of The Losers, Andy Diggle and Jock’s middling, Shane Black-inspired comic series, is the second comic-book movie misfire of 2010 and hopefully the last. With a script by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, the latter of whom adapted Robert Graysmith’s book on the Zodiac killer into David Fincher’s masterfully obsessive procedural, The Losers should deliver a lot more than it does. White mashes together Tony Scott’s hyper-saturated aesthetic and Guy Ritchie’s needy showmanship, creating an especially grubby actioner that is constantly looking over its shoulder to reiterate whatever points Berg and Vanderbilt’s script can’t organically drive home. Already thin material is watered down even more without a supplementary iota of charm borrowed from the comic’s modest reserves.
While Diggle and Jock’s Losers take their names from a WWII battalion of despairing, confidence-challenged American G.I.s, they’re almost nothing like their predecessors. As in the movie, the new Losers are a group of ex-soldiers that have been betrayed by their government after they refuse to follow reprehensible orders, in this case murdering 25 children that were being used as drug mules. These Losers have all the threadbare swagger and goofy charm of one of Scott’s super teams.
There’s Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the womanizing team leader and the one most determined to get back at the faceless military industrial complex that made them compromise their lofty ideals (in true macho fashion, he thinks kids and women should never be touched, though he kind of bends the rules for the latter group, if you know what I mean); Roque (Idris Elba), Clay’s right-hand man and the one that’s second-guessing his every move; Jensen (Chris Evans), the fratboy techie with six-pack abs and no clue how to either stop talking or just be funny (apparently, loudly singing along with “Don’t Stop Believin’” is inherently hilarious); Pooch, self-described “Black Macgyver” and getaway driver; Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), whose codename suggests a lascivious older woman, but is in fact a silent but deadly Latino sharpshooter; and Aisha (Zoe Saldana), the mysterious badass chick that promises to help them get their lives back.
In the right hands, this would make the Losers perfectly charming in their own goofy way. In White and company’s film, delivering toothless political commentary and cheesy banter seems like a chore, making every earned laugh and genuinely impressive action scene look like a string of flukes. Combined with Berg and Vanderbilt’s wan dialogue, the film’s abusive overkill policy on slow-motion and obnoxious all-caps captions that announce whenever the globe-hopping plot has changed locations reeks of incompetent mismanaging of what should have been surefire B-movie material. The film’s vain attempts at being flashy and stylish is more loud than charming and never as clever as it acts.
Worse still, it can’t even offer a flimsy excuse for why it exists. The recent comic’s central raison d’etre was to give a defunct team a new spin, targeting obliquely the Rove/Bush/Cheney cabal by conflating them into a single super-baddy: Max (Jason Patric), the personification of everything that is and has always been wrong with American politics. In the film, Patric, who delivers the most effortlessly charming performance, is left twisting in the wind, perhaps because his character was deemed too offensive for mass audiences (at this point, would anyone really care if a blockbuster movie took a thinly veiled pot-shot at Dubya?).
The film’s Max is just a generic Bond villain, proudly wearing an American flag pin on the lapel of his pin-stripe suit while shooting a lackey for momentarily jostling his umbrella. Unlike in the comics, Max isn’t interested in oil or the Middle East anymore, nor is Aisha an angry Muslim woman (possibly the new generic iteration of the “mad black woman” stereotype?) who wants to hurt him, being the white imperialist scumbag he is. The movie’s Max just wants to start a war, presumably so he can profit from it instead of using the chaos to take over the world. If Berg and Vanderbilt had the sense of humor to turn him into a memorably obnoxious two-dimensional megalomaniac, Patric’s performance might have been memorable enough to make this bombastic stinker worth recommending. Then again, that would require White and the gang to recognize a golden opportunity when they saw one.