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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Movie Review: The Losers

(Note: This was published in a local daily awhile back)

HAVING heard of this latest action flick, I was -- how shall I describe it -- piqued? That's putting it rather mildly though. I hunkered down to my seat in the cinema without trying to scream bloody murder about how it apparently was a blatant rip-off of one of the 80's and my childhood's favorite series: The A-Team (which a re-make has been made and will be shown later this year). Can you blame me? A motley crew of ex-special forces soldiers who defy their orders from up-above? Check.
As a consequence of said defiance, they are now running from the government with the law now chasing them. Check. They find themselves in an adventure that necessitates in excessive firefights, humongous explosions while showcasing their individual skill sets that dovetail with their ultimate request for redemption? Check again. See a pattern developing?
After some digging though, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that The Losers was actually from a DC Comics series which ran from 2003-2006. Admittedly, I did not know the title but I did grow-up with American comics and know the genre. Not being familiar with the source material was probably a good thing on my part since more often than not, I find the attempt to translate from colored-pages to feature film a poor attempt to earn money. It's the utter lack of respect for the media and the story's integrity interspersed with the "creative" injections of writers, producers or directors that, well-meaning they maybe, often spoil the pristine beauty of the original comic's storyline. There are of course some notable exceptions: Rodriguez/Miller-helmed Sin City or Chris Nolan's Batman or for example stand out in my mind.
The story begins with the team of five led by the seasoned "Clay" (Jeffrey Dean Morgan also from a recent comics translation, Watchmen) in the middle of an operation to assassinate a nefarious South-American crime boss in his lair in the Bolivian jungle. The group is then shown as a tight bunch of elite soldiers with the know-how ranging from technical computer hacking, to sniping, to butchering someone with large blades and to make things blow-up as loud as possible. Sanctioned by a mysterious "voice" of a CIA operative "Max" (ably played by Jason Patric whose brilliance is somewhat undervalued considering his performances in Narc, The Alamo, and The Beast), here is where the soldier-can't-accomplish-an-unconscionable-order-from-his-superior plot formula happens (like in Tears of the Sun with Bruce Willis) and while I can't actually reveal anything and spoil it, it is indeed something cruel and also winds up making them look very bad. So it is like The A-Team right? Up until this point, yes. This film though has some variations on the theme with just enough spice to keep you interested.
First, it has the babe factor: Zoe Saldana (recently of Avatar and Star Trek) as "Aisha." "Hannibal" et al in The A-Team back in the day didn't have a muse did they? Her character manages to impose herself into the group by providing salvation from their fugitive status and a chance to get back at their nefarious ex-CIA handler (of course there's the obligatory romantic angle but also an interesting twist which will be revealed later on). Without disputing her being pretty and with a bright future in movies, I honestly think her body could use a bit of protein though.
Secondly, in an apparent attempt to add to the gravity to the conflict, a certain James Bond-esque element is added: Max the villain has megalomaniacal tendencies and wants to acquire an interesting next generation WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction). Again not wanting to reveal much, Aisha says that as an effect of Max's ambitions, "world maps get redrawn." Intrigued yet? It seems that employing this plot device was an attempt to re-introduce the "awesome" factor from its comics heritage. Frankly, you need to do that nowadays in Hollywood with all the fancy CGI and big-budget special effects going on. To me though, the execution was rather weak.
The last counter-point this film manages to establish for itself is its own group dynamic. The Losers provided more yang to The A-Team's yin. Sure The A-Team had the colorful B.A. Baracus and Murdock, but on the whole, you get the feel of the laid-back, "officer's club" with a knack for MacGyver-like ingenuity for escaping hairy situations for the older set. Not so these newer guys. The Losers have this "shoot/slice/blow them up and have a beer afterwards" grit. These guys are the like those angry grunts who have been shouted at all day long and have a ticking, deep-seated, frustration deep down inside which painfully express with delight in the battlefield. Meanwhile you could just imagine Hannibal enjoying a cigar and Faceman with a bubbly, fizzy drink somewhere.
So what do I really think of The Losers? Does it have enough "caliber" to earn a place as lofty enough as my childhood admiration for the The A-Team? Hardly, but I'll be charitable; it was an hour and a half plus of light afternoon fun for me. As is typical of most action fares, don't strain yourself thinking too much. It wasn't made for that. Just a couple of hours of manly "bang" "bang" and "boom" "boom".

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