Details: (M), 98 mins, In Cinemas 27 May 2010, United States, English
Synopsis: After being betrayed and left for dead, members of a CIA black ops team root out those who targeted them for assassination.
Boys' Own 2.0
The term ‘boys-own adventure’ sprang from the literary exploits of the plucky colonial heroes of early 20th Century England. Their rousing travails would plunge them deep into the wilds of godless Africa or have them fight the good fight against the wicked Hun; public-school lads were enthralled by these outlandish but adrenalised flights of nonsensical fancy, often read by candlelight, under bedsheets, long after the Master had called ‘Lights out!’.
The basic principles of the ‘boys-own adventure’ tale live on in Sylvain White’s The Losers, minus the jodhpur-&-pith-helmet heroes of yore. In 2010, ‘outlandish but adrenalised flights of nonsensical fancy’ means wild stunts, flippant bloodshed, smart-mouthed comedy and hot babes. The adventures of Biggles were never like this!
This adaptation of Andy Diggles’ graphic novel introduces us to the men who will become ‘The Losers’ when they are still Black-Ops specialist-soldiers on assignment in South America. Positioned to eliminate a drug lord’s manufacturing centre, the operation is thrown into disarray by the appearance of a busload of children, seconds before the airstrike that will level the villa complex. When the unseen powers-that-be refuse to delay the destruction, team leader Clay (Jeffery Dean Morgan) orders his men to strike fast and ferociously, rescuing the kids in defiance of Central Command’s ‘acceptable collateral damage’ policy.
Ensuing complications make for a horrible moment in a film that has been pitched as an ‘action romp’, although the experience is central to the disillusionment of the soldiers, and serves as their motivation for breaking free of their military life. ‘The Losers’ are born.
The dynamics of this wayward bunch offer few surprises. Clay is the boss, but he commands little of the respect he enjoyed in a strict military unit. Roque (idris Elba) is the alternate Alpha-male in the group, challenging Clay at every turn; silent sharp-shooter Cougar (Óscar Jaenada) and family-man Pooch (Columbus Short) are one-dimensional weapons specialists, mostly relegated to the background; and then there’s the ultra-cocky Jensen (a very cool Chris Evans, stealing the film with the same charisma he displayed as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films).
Into the mix comes the exotic and mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana), an arse-kicking beauty who offers them a job that will lay to rest some of the group’s lingering resentment. Saldana’s sultry presence reinforces The Losers’ status as a ‘boys-own adventure’: female characters are usually given short shrift, in the literary traditions of the genre. The only female character with more than five words in the film (the other bit players are a receptionist, a pregnant woman and a butch women’s soccer official), Aisha uses sex as a weapon and is soon exposed as a double-crossing liar. It is to Saldana’s credit that she not only holds her own against all the machismo, but that she makes Aisha an interesting and sympathetic character; she really had very little to work with.
Despite reservations, The Losers take off in pursuit of uber-villain Max, played with a vivid silliness by Jason Patric. An actor who seemed assured of A-list stardom a decade ago, Patric has defiantly fought against leading-man status with an odd combination of arthouse efforts (Walker Payne, 2006; Your Friends & Neighbors, 1998; Narc, 2002; the barely-released The Devil and Daniel Webster, 2004) and big-budget duds (Geronimo: An American Legend, 1993; Speed 2: Cruise Control, 1997; The Alamo, 2004). As Max, Patric seems to be unburdening himself of his ‘angry, brooding hulk’ reputation and he provides a lot of the film’s best moments, however tasteless they may be (his version of Slumdog Millionaire’s famous “Who wants to be a millionaire?” line whilst taunting a Middle Eastern business man is very wrong but very funny).
From here on in, lots of things blow up and plenty of wise-cracks are made. The basic plot, involving something about eco-terrorism, is utterly inconsequential (and, in all honesty, completely blanked from my memory). But story subtleties are not what a film like this aspires to; its garish colour scheme and zippy editing ensure it is hard to look away, except for those moments when you’re rolling your eyes in disbelief. The big set pieces – a downtown armoured car snatching and the dockside gunfight finale, in particular – have a cool retro ‘80s feel, when implausibility and a bad guy’s inability to shoot straight only bolstered the essence of an action scene.
The Losers earns the right to wears its ‘boys-own adventure’ credentials proudly on its sleeve. Everything about the weaponry on screen and the moviemaking technology employed behind it scream ultra-modern, but at its core is a loopy, loud wham-bam dose of old-fashioned thrills and giggles.
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