REVIEW: Smoldering Saldana Can't Save Cartoonish Losers
In the first 10 minutes of The Losers, a helicopter loaded with cheerful Bolivian children crashes in the jungle after being struck by a U.S. missile obviously bent on destruction. Previously used as mules by some heartless baddie, these cute little tykes have just been rescued by the members of a U.S. special forces unit; the men look on, aghast, as the chopper that ought to be carrying the kids to safety turns into a big fireball in the sky. The soldiers approach the wreckage with downcast eyes and heavy hearts, and the camera moves in on a smoking pile of twisted metal to show us the shredded remains of one kid's teddy bear therein. If you've started to wonder how low Hollywood entertainments can possibly stoop, The Losers brings the bar down a few notches: Nothing rapes the emotions like a smoldering teddy bear.
The Losers is based on the DC Comics/Vertigo comic-book series of the same name, and it's possible that that desolate teddy-bear image could work as a comic-book panel. Then again, maybe not: Comic-book art can bear a higher level of sentimentality and extreme heart-tugging than the movies can, but I think that image would be cheap even if rendered in the most carefully shaded colored ink. As it is, The Losers is flashy and garish, at times winkingly clever, but ultimately, not particularly distinctive. In fact, its aggressive disregard for its own bad taste is pretty much the only interesting thing about it.
That, and Zoe Saldana's legs. But let's not get ahead of ourselves: The special-forces guys who watch the destruction of that helicopter know that they, and not those poor helpless kids, were the intended target. Presumed dead, they set to work wreaking revenge on the powerful suited creep named Max (Jason Patric) who wanted them dead. This merry band of five includes the usual assortment of communications pros and explosives experts, among them a bespectacled hottie named Jensen (Chris Evans) and the glowering, distrustful Roque (Irdis Elba). Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is the group's crackerjack marksman; Pooch (Columbus Short) is the sweetie pie whose wife is about to give birth. (She believes he's dead, which makes him all the more eager to clear his name and get back to her.)
Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the group's leader, which means he's also the one who gets the babe. Aisha (Saldana) has approached Clay and his men with a proposition: If they can help her kill Max -- for motives of her own that she doesn't reveal -- she'll help them get back to some semblance of normal life. The sparks fly between Clay and Aisha early on, when she sidles up to him in some South American water hole: The two repair to Clay's room and start limbering up, presumably for sex, although in reality they start dashing one another against the wall before, literally, setting the joint ablaze.
The violence here is crass and cartoony, not protracted or sadistic. The most gruesome bit might be the bad guy who's dispatched by getting the Canadian-goose treatment in a plane engine, but it's over in a blink, and it's played for laughs, anyway. The director, Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard), keeps the story moving nimbly enough, though his action sequences, featuring the usual nonsensical slice-and-dice cutting, are generic and uninspired. There are a few clever bits here: When Jensen, unarmed, is confronted in a high-security office building by a bunch of goons, he informs them that the U.S. government has genetically altered him to be a human killing machine. He then proceeds to blam them, one by one, with nothing more than a pointed finger -- they drop like flies around him, falling literally and figuratively for what turns out to be a carefully crafted illusion.
Still, The Losers doesn't offer much to elevate itself to the top of the comic-book-movie pile, and even if that coarsely manipulative opening sequence doesn't exactly set the tone for the rest of the movie, it still leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. The actors are at least mildly appealing: Morgan, with his grizzly whiskers and soulful eyes, is the poor man's Robert Downey Jr. -- he manages to generate at least a few random jolts of electricity with Saldana. And while this role doesn't offer the actress much of a challenge, White and his DP, Scott Kevan, do make the most of her comic-book heroine's body, all tiny hips and everlasting stems. Saldana is an alluring, minxlike actress with more than a hint of slyness about her; there's much more to her than we were allowed to see in Avatar. She made a superb, witty Uhura in last year's Star Trek, and I'll never forget the first time I saw her, in the 2000 Center Stage, as an insouciant ballerina stubbing out a cigarette with the toe of her pink pointe shoe. She deserves better roles than this one, but at least she's a human presence rather than an oversized blue-skinned one. When she sets a room on fire, you know exactly why.