The Losers (review)

A Soupçon of Snark

You’re not too long into this wickedly wonderful little smashup of fluff — maybe 20 minutes or so — before you think, “Wait: Did this open with a ‘previously on The Losers’ segue?” It didn’t, you realize, but surely it will end with coming attractions for next week’s episode, right? Because this is like some lost 80s action comedy TV series fallen through a wormhole, which I mean in the best possible way. As pure-action-comedies-with-a-soupçon-of-snark go, this is a dilly. If nothing else, it’s the perfect warmup for next month’s A-Team movie.

Look: The Losers name-checks MacGyver, and in a way that is both totally appropriate and postmodernally self-referential. If that’s your cup of action-comedy tea, have at it.
It’s my cup of duct-taped tea — yes, MacGyver’s favorite tool, duct tape, makes an appearance, too — and it’s far more to my liking that Kick-Ass, which pretends to brains and deepness and geek philosophy but instantly dispenses with any such notions. The Losers starts off with no pretensions and ends with even fewer: it cares only to toss around some cool gadgets, some wicked guns, and a few blowed-up-real-good explosions. The Losers has the balls to be dumb but not stupid, where Kick-Ass thought it was brainy but ends up empty in spite of itself.

It all sounds very A-Team, too: A covert military team of jacks of all badass trade — weapons, computers, strategy, death-dealing — who work, perhaps, for the CIA is left for dead after an op that goes down bad in Bolivia. The guys, led by the starkly fascinating Jeffrey Dean Morgan (he was the grim Comedian of Watchmen), don’t like being asked to kill kids — “cute little buggers,” Dean’s Clay affectionately dubs them — and so their handler, Max, takes action he deems, in his cartoon-psychopath head, appropriate. Now Clay’s guys are on the run, in hiding, and way pissed off.

Enter Zoe Saldana (Death at a Funeral, Avatar), a covert-ops Hit Girl, who tracks down the guys in South America and hires them to take down Max, with whom she has an undisclosed beef, too. She and Clay sexyfight, establishing her badassery, his basic good-guyness — he’ll beat up a girl, but only to the degree that she beats up back — and the shaky basis for their working relationship. Can we trust her? Probably not. Can we trust every member of Clay’s team? Probably not. And the game — their spy game and our guessing game — is afoot.

Based on the Vertigo comic by Andy Diggle [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], and brought to the screen by screenwriters who are prettty bad ass themselves — Peter Berg wrote the deliciously noxious Very Bad Things; James Vanderbilt wrote the goofy junk of The Rundown — this is nothing more than what it is: featherweight fun, but never such that talks down to its audience. It assumes, in fact, that the viewer doesn’t need technobabble overexplained, that we are capable of catching funny one-liners that slide by without underscoring, and that some jokes don’t even need a punchine… such as why Max (a hilarious Jason Patric: The Alamo) needs to wear one glove to cover up an uncommented-upon injury. The Losers is self-aware enough to have Saldana’s Aisha snigger, “Really?” when introduced to Clay’s ridiculously-monickered team — Roque (Idris Elba: Obsessed, The Unborn), Pooch (Columbus Short: Armored, Whiteout), and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada: Che); there’s also Jensen (Chris Evans: Push, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond) — while itself indulging in only one moment that made me similarly snicker (a slo-mo team walk, which director Sylvain White could have and should have done without). It’s aware enough of how full of geek-knowledge its audience will be to invent a new kind of weapon that is more about nodding to geek expectations as to what comic-book villains would covet than it is about trying to horrify us with newfound potential for destruction.

It’s all preposterous, and magnificently so, in a carefree, tongue-in-cheek way that many movies aspire to and few achieve. It’s so perfect, in fact, that I can’t even be sure if it’s a setup for a sequel or just another joke. I hope not: I’d love to see more.

Watch The Losers online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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