Monday, March 7, 2011

Signal Watch watches: "The Losers".

This movie was kind of like "we have only the vaguest notion we're unintentionally remaking The A-Team".  Well, maybe not exactly the A-Team, but it certainly isn't not the the A-Team or every wacky action series you've previously seen. 

Someone got rich making an adaptation of DC Comics/ Vertigo's beloved series The Losers. That person was not me, and it wasn't you, but somebody was able to buy dinner and a car off the fact that this movie got made, and, its hard to believe that if this is all it takes, why am I (or you) not able to make a whole lot of money selling retreads of A-Team episodes to Hollywood and calling it a day?

Full explanation and disclosure

1)  The Losers is based upon a comic, or we wouldn't be talking about it here, of course were nit not based on a comic, it likely would not exist at all.  Of course Hollywood is in convulsions at the moment as it realizes "hey, not all comics are guaranteed blockbusters".  Also - way to @#$%-up Jonah Hex.  Thanks.

2)  This version of The Losers isn't actually the classic version, which was a group of US Soldiers constantly trying to avoid trouble, which usually lands them in even greater trouble than what they started with.  I've only read the Kirby penned issues, but the original series is much beloved by war-book aficionados.  Given how most war comics appeared, I also have always assumed that this idea was lifted from a TV show or movie I've never seen. 

If you are me, Wikipedia will only mildly surprise you when they inform you that the concept was originally Kanigher's.

3)  The version of The Losers adapated to the big screen retained the title, and that's about it. Although they did take the name of the dog, Pooch, and apply it to the chauffeur of the team. 

4)  I actually read the first issue of this version of The Losers, and didn't like it all that much and never read a second issue. 

Its shooting fish in a barrel to point out that when American comics decide to do stories usually reserved for the big screen, they tend not to come from any place of experience or research, but from the writers and artists having had seen a whole bunch of movies not unlike what they've decided to turn into a comic.  That's okay, most movies and TV shows long ago spun off into just referencing the rules set up in prior movies and TV series (which is why I look forward to all vampires in future vampire movies sparkling like a glitter-clad Gloria Gaynor).

The writers, director, producer and actors are clearly having fun making The Losers, but its hard to have fun actually watching the flick.  Its set up to be the fun sort of action movie where rules of physics don't apply except when they do, and our heroes trade witty remarks under heavy fire, etc...  And I don't think there's inherently anything wrong with that kind of movie.  I am, after all, a huge fan of movies like Big Trouble in Little China

The problem that The Losers runs into is that someone made the mistake of thinking that if the movie is funny and fun, it doesn't need to make sense or be very well written, directed or thought out.

The set-up:  our heroes are set up to take out an all-purpose Central American Badguy Superboss, but realize someone is pulling the strings when they can't call off an airstrike after a literal busload of kids is delivered to the Evil Compound (was this meant to be hilarious?, because it kind of was), and our heroes must dash in to rescue the kids.  They succeed, the Evil badguy gets blown up, and they make it to their extraction point.  Their extraction helicopter, then loaded with kids (which means they can't get aboard), is blown up as a devious Rogue Government Agent with His Own Agenda/ puppetmaster tries to cover his tracks.

At this point, the plot becomes nothing but holes and miscalculations.

We're to understand that this (ie - The Losers) is a top-flight CIA team of some sort.  And they don't have a secondary contact they can call to say "hey, this operation went a little jenky and we were co-opted"?  The only course of action these guys think to take is to hide out for the remainders of their lives?

And, seriously, Zoe Saldana has the charisma of a grocery store lobster in this movie.  I know she's Hollywood's current golden girl, but...  man.  (Not that any of the actors blew me away).

Our leader meets a mysterious (and, of course, sexy) woman who basically tries to kill him, but when the fights is over and she says "meet me in this open field and bring your whole team" - they all show up (including the sniper).  They just...  hang out in a graveyard, with no idea who this person is.  And even after she offers to help, its never clear who she's supposedly working for, etc...  and our heroes willingly allow themselves to be trapped in coffins? Its just a total mess.

The movie just sort of ambles along this way, hoping that the quick edits and the supposed rapier wit of Chris Evans will distract the audience.  But the rest of the team is never given an opportunity to define itself or have personalities other than a sort of cheerful, "I love it when a plan comes together" sort of vibe.

Jason Patric plays the sort of gleefully/ cartoonishly homicidal bad guy who tends to pick off his own minions at whim (a la The Joker) but outside the hyperbolic world where people dress as bats, you're just left wondering why someone would ever go work for this guy, and at what point would you quietly kill him (after all, you're a merc) or sell him out, just to increase your own likelihood of survival?

And, of course, our villain has bought a "green doomsday weapon" with which he plans to make a better America through some Rube Goldberg train of logic.  I think we were supposed to laugh about the scene where the weapon is demonstrated and explained, but I wasn't honestly sure.

Its a movie where villains ask for a billion dollars in cash AND a Ducati as payment for delivery of their doomsday weapons (because once you have a billion dollars, why not, right?), and the guys selling the weapons and collecting $1 billion in cash don't stop to think about providing their own small army to make sure all goes smoothly.  I also want to know where one gets $1 billion in cash, but it made for a nice visual.

I feel like I should start keeping track of fights in movies where a person 1/3rd the size of their sparring partner goes toe-to-toe because of the movie rules surrounding "karate" in movies. The "wow!" factor of seeing a 95 pound woman fight a guy 3 times their size wore off decades ago.*  I guess its the standard issue "oh, they hate each other so they're going to sleep together!" staple of TV and movies, but it just feels incredibly tired.


When one of our merry band of adventurers turns traitor, its almost the only logical bit of the movie.  His superiors have failed him, AND seemingly sold him out for some hanky-panky with the one woman in the movie with speaking lines who any of these guys would have had absolutely all the reason in the world to put in a shallow grave from the minute she shows up...  You absolutely can't blame the guy for thinking that jumping in with the badguys looked like a much better deal, because by this point none of our leads has been shown to be able to illicit a whiff of sympathy.

Also, a sequel?  Seriously?  You thought this thing as written warranted more parts?  Good lord.


The most frustrating part of The Losers was not that its critical and commercial tailspin helped kick non-superhero comics in the teeth both at the movies and on the spinner rack.  Its that there were some genuinely clever bits in the movie (for example, I like a bit that ties in with children's soccer matches), but the people working on the movie just phoned it in and seem perfectly aware that they're spending millions on a movie but don't care if it makes any sense and had absolutely no yardstick to use to decide "is the movie we're making any good"?

Admittedly, I never read the comic, so its possible this movie is simply a reflection of a trainwreck of a book.  I am not a fan of comic writer Andy Diggle, and don't seek out his work.**  Basically, every time I read his work it just feels like a collection of cliches and stuff you've seen elsewhere done better, but with the sort of "look, I'm extreme!" vibe that permeates writers trying to work in more adult genres.  (I may not love Azzarello's work, either, but he generally at least seems to find new angles).

Director Sylvain White was helming his first Hollywood flick, and its possible the $25 million budget handicapped much of what they had planned.  I have no idea what happened, but it doesn't even feel like a missed opportunity.  It just feels like a big, dumb action retread on a budget.

*This will sound cruel, but these days it would be a total shocker to see that fight go down with something resembling physics involved (although the word "empowering" would likely not appear, nor would it be very pretty for either side), and at least something would feel like it was at stake.

** I felt like he just totally fumbled Green Arrow: Year One.


rhpt said...

I rented this move and transferred it to the laptop for my trip to Indonesia (That's legal, right?). When I went to watch it, I instead got ROBIN HOOD with Russell Crowe, which I also had transferred to the laptop for the trip. So, basically, I had 2 copies of ROBIN HOOD instead of The LOSERS.

The End.

J.S. said...

I care so little about this movie (which I tried to watch, but mostly end up sleeping through) that I'm going to tell you right here and now that I did not read your review of it (because that, once again, would have required more time than I am willing to spend on this movie). If you were going to give it a hearty endorsement and recommend that I give it another chance, please feel free to shoot me an email. It would be one of the most surprising emails I've ever gotten from you (other from the time you told me you were actually a woman).

Anonymous said...

I knew a guy who was married to a woman then decided to become transgendered and s/he remained married to that woman. Ryan and that guy (who is now goes by Sarah) should meet.

The League said...


I am curious as to how this fits in with "The Losers", but I'm always up for meeting somebody new.