Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Losers

Last summer, I decided that I would work harder at accepting media as it are presented and not worry so much about what I would like them to be. As you can imagine, this is a tough line for an amateur blogger/critic/wannabe writer to toe. It all arose from finally accepting that Mad Men is just a big soap opera instead of driving myself nuts trying to find a critical nugget that made it feel worthwhile. So, if it appears the goal is to be a lightweight "beach book" then I'll strive to talk about the success of that attempt. I may complain that something could have aimed higher, or that it tried to do something else and failed, but I trying very hard to fight my own bias against media that's just fun.

Fortunately, The Losers doesn't really aim for anything more than just being fun. And it really succeeds, in part by being different than most action movies. There is real space for the characters to develop and interact, and there is not a breath-taking explosion every 20 seconds. An action movie that relies on storytelling is a rare and pleasant thing; I may have missed some recently, but movies like the original Die Hard and True Lies leap to mind. They may not be your specific cup of tea, but they are more than "things blow up good"; there is some character development and advancement of some sort of story around all those nice explosions. And The Losers blows things up even less often than those films, giving more space for character development.

The film begins when a squad of soldiers led by Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is guided by a CIA handler into the home of an apparent Middle/South American drug kingpin. The team is supposed to only provide a laser guide for a missile run, but they discover that a busload of children are there also, being "recruited" as mules for the drug operation. With the fighter jets on the way, the team breaks into the estate and rescues the children. Clay runs into the kingpin, who asks if Max has sent him—Max being the CIA handler. Clay is astonished and replies that it was Max, to which the kingpin ruefully tells Clay to be careful. Clay and team escape with the kids, the estate is blown all to heck, and a school bus full of children heads to the pickup point. I don't want to spoil too much here, so let's just say that the helicopter is blown up, Clay's team all survives but are extremely irritated, and the world thinks they are dead.

What makes this movie really work is the chemistry among the team members, which is put on display in the opening sequence. Roque (Idris Elba), second in command, is the stern taskmaster who acts as Clay's foil—if Clay gets a crazy idea, Roque is the voice of reason. Jensen (Chris Evans) is the tech geek and smart aleck. There's a character named Pooch (Columbus Short) who is mostly along for comic effect and for drivig vehicles; it becomes something of a running gag that if they get involved in a fight somehow, he gets hurt. And finally, there's the sniper expert, Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), who while he never speaks is the glue that holds the team together. Their camaraderie and conversation just feels right; rather than the bravado and one-upmanship that is often the dialogue in similar movies, these men recognize talk about shared experiences and recognize each others' strengths and weaknesses. And so, as they fight their way to the villainous Max (Jason Patric), we care about their progress not because it moves the plot forward, but because we like these men.

The movie does fall to one cliché, however; whenever a woman gets involved in a team of men, dissension is sure to follow. The cliché is embodied by Aisha (Zoe Saldana), who catches up to the team and offers to help them bring down Max. The team is careful, but not so careful that Clay and Aisha have some romantic scenes (the first of which is just hysterical as it envisions the natural result of two such forceful personalities coming together).

I've seen comparisons of this movie to the upcoming The A-Team, and on the surface, such comparisons may hold water; but based on the commercials and trailers I have seen, that movie relies more on over-the-top action, while The Losers trends more towards thriller fare, like covert actions. However, when action is called for, the team is ready to dispense as much as is required to punish Max the CIA guy. Furthermore, there were two plot twists in The Losers I just didn't see coming; one of them was obvious as I look back in hindsight (I was just enjoying the movie too much to really try to unravel it), but the other one really did come out of the blue. This is not to say it was deus ex machina stuff; no, thinking back, I can see the hints that are obvious in hindsight. At any rate, I doubt that The A-Team, if it sticks close to its source, will have any such plot machinations.

I also doubt that The A-Team will have such an over-the-top villain as Max. Jason Patric is just delightful as he stomps all over the line between villainy and dark humor.

The end result was a fairly light-hearted thriller/action movie with moderate depth and whole lot of fun. The movie, like the comic series it is based on, leaves open the possibility of a sequel, and I have to admit I wouldn't mind such a thing. Not for serious or lengthy consideration, nonetheless The Losers is worth at least one viewing.

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