Monday, April 26, 2010

The Losers (White 2010)

The sad thing about The Losers is that for its entire running time, you can tell the filmmakers were trying hard to make this film work. This isn’t a half assed effort of a film; from the directing of Sylvain White to the acting, everyone brought an A level effort to the film, and you have to admire that. The problem is none of that effort ultimately makes The Losers a decent film going experience.

A partial update on the premise of the 1980s television cheese fest The A-Team, The Losers is an adaptation of a mature readers’ comic book series of the same name, following a group of special operations soldiers who are left for dead and framed for the murder of a group of children in Bolivia by their handler Max (Jason Patric). Understandably angry, the group takes up the offer from a mysterious woman named Aisha (Zoe Saldana) to bankroll their return to America in exchange for killing Max. This is only the start of their troubles however as group tensions and the mysterious identity of Aisha threaten to unravel the whole scheme.

The material is standard action fare, but workable for a fun, if vapid, film. So why does The Losers ultimately not work? While the film suffers from several flaws, they are all the result of the film’s attempt to achieve the rarified status of “cool.” While there are many things in both life and film which hope to become cool, the common denominator for most things which do become cool is that don’t actively seek to gain that status, but rather have the status of “cool” pronounced upon them by the culture in a natural way. Actively seeking the status of “cool” more often than not achieves the opposite result, and it is this problem that dodges nearly every moment of The Losers.

The type of “cool” which the filmmakers behind The Losers wish to achieve is clear from the outset, as they try and blend 1980s style “men on a mission” action films with the pop culture soaked wit and syntax of the post-Pulp Fiction era of American filmmaking. The characters which populate this world are media saturated individuals who wear this knowledge on their sleeves and take little of what happens around them in an overly serious fashion, not being quite as ironically detached as some of Quentin Tarantino’s characters while never being as ethically obsessive as Jason Bourne.

What the filmmakers miss however is that the films they are trying to emulate, even at their most frothy, tend to have a better sense of grounding which never exists in this film. While the popular culture may be the way in which many people structure and express their views of the world in both real life and in film, the important thing is that such expressions are still about something tangible. Randal of Clerks and Clerks 2 fame may spend most of his time discussing pop culture, but his choices of topics and the way in which he chooses to talk them tell us much about his concerns, thoughts and ideals. Even the absurd macho posturing of the military unit in Predator tells us something about those characters, as simple as it may be.

The same cannot be said about the characters of The Losers, where nearly every character mouths off in and endless series of light banter which exists solely to be light hearted banter. Consider the characters of Jensen (Chris Evans) and Pooch (Columbus Short): I can honestly tell you next to nothing about these characters because there is nothing to say. One has a wife and another a niece, but those details amount to little. I cannot even tell you which one for sure is the obligatory smartass of the group, because their dialogue is frequently interchangeable. This is not the fault of the actors at all, as they make due with what they have. The problem is that they have nothing of substance to work with, transforming the film into more of a sketch comedy than an action comedy.

The villains fair no better than the heroes in the film, if not worse because they are nearly cartoons with no menace to them. Oh yes, Jason Patric is amusing to watch as Max, but at no moment is he ever a credible threat. He is a bad guy because, well, the film needed a villain, and therefore he must do villainous things. We are constantly reminded about how dangerous he and his organization of criminals are, but we are never actually shown anything to make us believe that. The Losers make frequent note as to how tough and frightening Max’s right hand man Wade (Holt McCallany) is, but the film never gives you one moment to believe that concept. Instead, we are treated to some admittedly funny scenes of misunderstandings, banter and frustrations between the super villain duo, but they would have worked better in an outright parody of the genre than in this film.

All of this is all the more annoying because there are nice moments and elements in the finished production. Chris Evans manages to come out of the film totally unscathed, thanks to a natural charisma and comic timing that rises well above the material, and the idea of environmentally friendly terrorism is an amusing idea, even though it goes nowhere in the film. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the excellent the use of Journey on the soundtrack in the film’s best moment.

That is just the point though: the film is nothing but moments. I honestly cannot recommend The Losers as anything more than a time killer if you actually have some time to kill. It is an entirely disposable film, likely to be forgotten about as soon as it is over, a point that no film wanting to be cool can ever survive.

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