Losers, The: Sylvain White’s Second Feature

By Patrick Z. McGavin
A nasty and vicious piece of work alight in the casual sadism and blatant misogyny fantasies seemingly explicit in most contemporary comic books and video games, Sylvain White’s second feature “The Losers” proves brutally apt.
It is a slam bang work for sure, elaborately puffed out with the best of digital effects and gleaming production values that transforms it into a wholly different form of revelry. It produces a wholly different though no less off putting brand of pornography, with all the implied guilt and none of the transgression.
White’s background in video is telling. He rarely turns down the opportunity of aestheticizing forms and objects, especially the “human models,” like the beautiful and somewhat too giving Zoe Saldana. This is the kind of action movie where during a firefight inside hotel room a shard of broken mirror is angled at just the right spot to reveal a leering, frozen look at Saldana’s spectacular backside.
The sledgehammer script, by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, adapts the identically titled comic book series published by Vertigo and written Andy Diggle, about a specially trained group of government soldiers who enact a revenge pact to take out the powerful spy and psychopath who framed them during a covert mission.
From the start, the tone is jocular, manic and unforgiving. The eponymous group is introduced, in comic panel freeze frames, and indentified by their ritualistic names and special skill sets. The leader, Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is the Bond iterant, suave, handsome and fatally attracted to beautifully unstable women. The characters are not drawn or conceived so much as machine assembled: the tough, scarred second in command, Roque (Idris Elba); the loose limbed computer specialist, Jensen (Chris Evans); the laconic, calm sniper Cougar (Oscar Jaenada); and the stable though sarcastically inclined pilot, Pooch (Columbus Short).
It is a movie awash in loud noises, big guns, racist invective and smarmy sexual innuendo. It is also blithely amoral and aggressively unwilling to consider the emotional considerations of anybody. That is obvious from the big set piece that starts the movie, a raid by the group on a narco-terrorist sanctuary that ends with the bag guys liquidated and appallingly, the wanton slaughter of 25 innocent Bolivian children.
The fiendish mastermind behind the plot is Max (Jason Patric, far from his finest hour). A dissolute playboy and CIA-trained megalomaniac bent on a perverse campaign for global conquest and social annihilation, Max carries out his thuggery with a detached air of aristocratic superiority and social privilege. (The fact that most of his immediate victims are women or ethnic minorities, whose religions or cultural attributes he constantly mocks, makes the movie not just bad but offensive.)
The story makes no sense, patched together to facilitate an unending stream of explosions, chases, fights and confrontations. Presumed dead and hiding out in a shantytown after the Bolivian operation, the group is saved by a mysterious benefactor, the beautiful, alluring and highly skilled Aisha (Saldana). In exchange for taking out Max, she offers them the chance to clear their damaged reputations. (The tough guy machismo-laden dialogue has a Spillane-like absurdity. “We heard his voice,” Clay says. “If he’s got a voice, he’s got a throat.”)
Hoped up and antic, “The Losers” settles into predictably route groove, globetrotting from one idyllic location to another. It’s a mission movie. (Not for nothing were the origins of the original comic book connected to a World War II unit.) In today’s parlance what the means is that it is loud, crude and spatially incoherent. It wants the anarchic, impulsive anti-authoritarian impulses and ideas central to so many comic books. Even by the outrageously open and fluid standards of the genre, the movie has no organizing shape or even tenuous connection to any realistic real world logic or utility.
It’s postmodern, that way, drained of any overt politics (other than the fact Muslims and Arabs provide the all too easy signifiers of greed and intolerance). It turns out some Dubai-based genius scientists have invented a particularly brutal weapon of mass destruction that Max covets. As he moves to secure the necessary means and financing to acquire the doomsday device, the group sets about a counter plan to wipe Max out.
The movie moves, rather bloodlessly, from one set piece to the next. The corpses pile up, but nothing of consequence is really learned or explored. The sexual chemistry of the two leads, also complicated by a dramatic revelation, is typical of how overdetermined and underdeveloped much of the movie is.
The flamboyant camerawork and the rapid fire cutting only feed the sense of sensory overload. It is not just the staging lacks any real imagination or stylistic flourish. Everything about “The Losers” feels either secondary or desperate, like the last-act moment of betrayal that fuels the movie’s bloodlust. The fact that it promises more to come is the most terrifying and unwelcome thought of all.