Friday, August 27, 2010

Losers Weepers

Okay, here's the story.

Your special forces team is on a top-secret covert mission working with the C.I.A. to take down some bad guys. When the mission is complete, your C.I.A. handlers betray you for knowing too much, committing an atrocity and blaming it on your team, forcing you all to go underground and on the run to try and find out who framed you and clear your name.

Okay, now raise your hand if you thought I was talking about The A-Team.

It's easy to draw comparisons between the famous 1980's show that was recently adapted into a big-screen blockbuster and The Losers, the unfortunately-named adaptation of the Vertigo Comics (DC's mature label) series of the same name. Both feature special forces teams betrayed by forces in their government. Both teams go on the run to try and clear their names. Both movies blow up a lot of ordinance. Both have a smoking-hot lead actress that's not afraid to fire of a missile launcher if she so desir... oh, wait. No, The Losers gets a point for that. One has to wonder, though, whether original comic creator Andy Diggle knew he was creating something of an A-Team clone when he set the book in motion back in 2003.

Saldana's a lethal weapon
There's no doubting the movie's strengths, however. The Losers, the best of the best of special forces teams, are sent down to Bolivia in tandem with the C.I.A. in order to take down a suspected terrorist. Led by Lt. Colonel Clay (Henry Dean Morgan), the team consists of hand-to-hand expert Roque (Idris Elba), hacker Jensen (Chris Evans), vehicle specialist Pooch (Columbus Short) and sniper Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). All the team has to do is call in a target for an aerial strike, but after they do so, they notice a large number of children on site. Rebuffed in their attempts to call off the strike, the team carries off a very risky rescue mission that successfully gets the children off base and into the extraction helicopter that was meant for the team. When that helicopter gets destroyed in an apparent retaliatory strike by the C.I.A. for disobeying orders, the team is blamed for the deaths and forced to go underground and try to find who set them up to try and get their lives back. While hiding out, they're discovered by the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana), who offers them a chance, a slim one, to get back at the operative who betrayed them and let them get back to their lives.

"Another van? Can't we ride in a helicopter like The A-Team?"
The film doesn't have as much mayhem as The A-Team, but while nothing can take the place of watching someone attempt to fly a tank, it surely doesn't lack for action. Explosions abound, but by taking a more realistic route, the movie still has dozens of gunfights, espionage missions and deception to keep the average action fan happy, and strong character development with interesting character interaction go a long way to the creation of a quality film.

One of the more explosive scenes in the film
Morgan, probably still known more for his tragic role on Grey's Anatomy as the heart patient Denny Duquette than for Watchmen's anti-hero the Comedian, smolders and shines, especially in scenes involving Saldana and Elba. It's a huge step forward for him to be the main man, and he handles the situation admirably and professionally. Saldana has simply exploded onto the scene, with Star Trek and Avatar officially announcing her career ascendancy, and here she commands your attention every time she's on the screen. Elba may have trouble living up to his work as Stringer Bell on The Wire, but here he does a good job of putting that behind him as Clay's friend and also a pretty good source of the team's tension. Unlike Clay, who wants revenge, Roque simply wants his life back, and Elba pulls it off. Jaenada doesn't get much to do but shoot things from a distance; He has few lines and no background is ever supplied for him. In the comic he supposedly quiet because of trauma experienced in combat, but that's never explored in the film. Short is pretty good as Pooch, the only married member of the squad who's wife is at home, pregnant and close to her due date. Pooch desperately wants to be there for when his child is born. Short gets some good scenes and plays them well, especially in the humor department. But the true standout of the crew might be the geeky Jensen, played by Evans. The best example might be this scene, where Jensen infiltrates an office building to extract a tool they need to fight back against the C.I.A. The scene, interspersed with action and laughs, is a great use of the character, and he's got the most charisma with the audience of any of the characters. Also I must say this is the movie that has allayed my fears about Evans being cast as the new Captain America, as he manages to bulk up considerably from the seemingly skinny Fantastic Four days.

"That's right bitches; I got a crossbow!"
It's too bad that The Losers continues this season's tradition of bone-headed villains who are really no danger to the heroes of the tale. One can only wonder what would have happened if Jason Patric hadn't turned down the lead role in The FirmThe A-Team, which arrived in theaters a week later. Saldana, for instance. While still being a serious sex symbol for the guys watching, Saldana is also something for the ladies: a strong, female character who plays by her own rules and does things her way, which is a huge leap over Jennifer Beals' role in The A-Team. Also, though A-Team may have more name recognition, The Losers does a great job of letting the audience connect with and sympathize with these soldiers, Clay and Roque too but especially Pooch and Jensen, whose family connections are minor plot threads in the story.

Pooch battles depth perception
So yeah, I loved The Losers and director Sylvan White's efforts on his biggest production to date. So why if I think it's superior in ways to The A-Team do I have it situated as the new #7 when A-Team comfortably sits at #4? Frankly, despite the attempt at more realistic ideas, the story itself  reeks of cheap knock-off, when The A-Team has boasted this storyline for a much longer lifespan. Though A-Team's plot devices have holes you could sail a ship through, it never lets you dwell on the problems with the story like The Losers does. The A-Team may boast sequences that make no sense (cutting out the engine of your helicopter right before the heat-seeking missiles hit probably won't work and shouldn't be recommended for real-life pilots), but they invariably make the movie more exciting and fantastical, easier for the viewer to become lost in the fabric of the film. And while The Losers boasts a strong ensemble cast that can do drama and comedy, nobody was better at leading than Liam Neeson, nobody better at doing the undercover than Bradley Cooper, and nobody with quite the natural comedic timing of Sharlto Copley. Honestly, while The Losers deserved more attention than it got and barely squeaked by, The A-Team was the film I had the more fun watching.

Just don't forget about this film. Losers need love too.


brian said...

Jason Patric and Chris Evans were hilarious in this movie.

Gianni said...

Chris Evans, I'll heartily agree was hilarious. Patric, though? His performance would make for a campy Bond villain, but otherwise I wasn't all that impressed.

brian said...

Patric, the best actor of the bunch, realized what kind of movie he was in. Did you expect something more serious than a Bond film? It's called 'The Losers' and based on a comic book. I laughed at the majority of his lines and thought him playing 'Go Fish' with his henchmen was a masterstroke.

Gianni said...

I get what you're saying, however I can't get behind a villain who I don't believe to be a serious danger to the heroes of the tale. Yes, it's called The Losers and yes it's based on a comic series, and yes Max was amusing (though I think you're overstating his entertainment value a bit), but I want my bad guys with some meat on their bones, not just puffed-up chests and bravado and no threat.

brian said...

I'm not overstating it. This shit is subjective biyatch.

brian said...


Opinioness of the World said...

Brian, who knew you got ghetto at 9:30 in the morning...were you sipping a flask at work??