Usually, I like to take my time in writing a movie review so I can let the film simmer for a bit and give it a bit of thought. I had to rush home to write this review of The Losers because I started forgetting the movie almost as soon as I left the theater. That’s the film’s intent: easily digestible entertainment. It’s a cookie-cutter action film filled with explosions, wise-cracks, and hot sex between the male and female lead. Thanks to the individual performances of the cast, The Losers rarely feels soulless, but due to the lack of chemistry between the actors, The Losers also never comes together to make a more lasting impression.
Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Roque (Idris Elba), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), Pooch (Columbus Short), and Jenner (Chris Evans) are members of a special ops unit that gets burned during a mission by a mysterious-but-certainly-evil man named “Max” (Jason Patric). Presumed dead and disavowed by the CIA, “The Losers” are presented with an opportunity to return to States and get revenge on Max by the sexy-and-dangerous Aisha (Zoe Saldana). From there, the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it does keep the characters rushing to their ultimate goal: Get Max and don’t get killed in the process.
The threadbare plot keeps the action moving, but in terms of keeping the audience energized and entertained, The Losers is a character-driven film. The film’s greatest strength is that it has five well-acted individual characters. Evans steals the film as Jenner gets to have the majority of the fun one-liners and jokes. It’s almost unfair that his character-who already gets all the good jokes-gets to waltz into a building disguised as a messenger while loudly singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”*. Short and Jaenada also have some standout moments and these three characters have the best chemistry among the cast.
Unfortunately, the real leads of the film are Morgan, Elba, and Saldana and their characters have almost zero chemistry. The relationship between Clay and Roque is supposed to be a friendship coming apart at the seams, but I had trouble believing these two men would spend a second of their free time with the other, let alone have each other’s back in a firefight. Clay and Aisha have a better shot at connection but it’s undermined by hurling them into the sack too quickly and it makes any attraction feel hollow. I don’t mind that they would use each other for sex, but I wasn’t convinced that they would let their guards down around each other when such a valuable mission was at stake.
Patric has the advantage of not worrying about chemistry with the other characters and as a result he almost edges out Evans as the film’s best performance. Max just enjoys being evil. He has some vague motivation about making war in order to readjust the balance of power in favor of the U.S., but Patric lets us know that Max is really just a guy who respects human life as much as a kid with a magnifying glass respects ants.
The Losers can be boiled down to: explosion, explosion, banter, banter. Director Sylvain White shows he knows how to handle complicated action scenes and he keeps the pace of his film moving so that you rarely notice how dumb the story’s getting** or the obviousness of getting particular elements of a set piece ready. But a team movie needs to have the actors feel like a team. I couldn’t believe these five men were brothers in arms. I believed each could be the star of his own movie, but the lack of a strong ensemble has The Losers losing what it needed the most. And without that strong center, you have a film that you’ll enjoy in the theater but will fade from your memory the second you leave.
*Due to its overuse in TV and movies, I do believe it’s time to retire this song. If we’re going to keep using Journey tunes, may I suggest “Wheel in the Sky” instead?
**Although a character getting shot in the arm in the afternoon and then scaling shipping containers in the evening is where I drew the line.