Stomp the Yard director Sylvain White envelopes his jokey Vertigo/DC Comic book adaptation The Losers in such old school ’80s ideals that you half expect Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris to show up and start cracking wise. In these days of over the top stunt showpieces like Wanted and Shoot ‘Em Up, such a throwback mentality is refreshing. It doesn’t mean it’s wholly entertaining, however.
When a covert operation in Bolivia goes bad, five military specialists — leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), second in command Rogue (Idris Elba), transport expert Pooch (Columbus Short), stellar marksman Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), and tech-whiz Jensen (Chris Evans) — are left for dead. Angry and desperate for revenge, they hook up with a mysterious woman named Aisha (Zoe Saldana) who promises to bankroll their revenge mission. The target? Uber-evil government mole Max (Jason Patric) who is determined to purchase four highly destructive disintegration bombs and with them, jumpstart the next War on Terror. While he is very hard to track, these self-described “Losers” believe they can find him and foil his evil plot…that is, if some internal issues don’t undermine the team’s resolve.
The Losers is an interesting blend of Greed Decade swagger and post-millennial manipulation. The plot — borrowed from the four panel series work of Andy Diggle — balances character with flash, narrative twists with your typical firefights to attempt something both modern and as moldy as Jean-Claude Van Damme’s tank tops. It wants to be a cheeky, comic romp, relying less on CG splash and amped-up visuals and more on the dynamic between individuals to work. Truth be told, Morgan and company make a compelling team. Englishman Elba is a wonderful personification of his nickname, while Evans gets all the good lines as a geek goofball with a tendency toward tacky t-shirts and skirt chasing. Avatar‘s Saldana more than holds her own with the rest of this testosterone-fueled company.
But despite all the quirky turns and practical pyrotechnics, The Losers doesn’t race. Instead, it kind of limps along, stopping off every now and then to favor us with a gun battle or beat down before continuing on its casual way. Only Patric plays this material like he’s in it to win. His Max is a classic cartoon villain: so wicked he would shoot an assistant for failing to hold his umbrella straight. White, on the other hand, only seems interested in playing up the personal beefs between the characters instead of focusing on the edge of your seat spectacle. This is especially true of the forced bedroom back and forth between Saldana and Morgan; we get why a studio would mandate their romance, but the movie never really explains it. The same thing applies to the big “reveal”. The plot twist is so off-the-cuff that it barely registers.
What The Losers really needs is an injection of postmodern adrenaline. It needs to drop all the globe-jumping and PG-13 neatness and really go for the throat. The lack of bloodshed, again something clearly ordered by the focus group obsessed front office, flattens everything, turning the violence into something vague and unfocused. Instead of memorable set-pieces, White seems intent of being scattershot. Without style or verve, The Losers must get by on personality alone. After a while, even we grow tired of the macho bickering.