Sylvain White’s The Losers is an example of that most frustrating of genres, the action comedy, which so often fails to deliver on its obvious potential. Based on the Vertigo comic book series of the same name, White’s film is a rare example of the genre done well, and whilst it isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it is head and shoulders above the majority of its direct competitors.
The Losers are a bunch of five US Special Forces operatives who discover – in a frustratingly over-stylised intro that threatens to derail the film before it can get going – that they have become the targets of a plot from within perpetrated by a mysterious voice on the radio known only as Max. From there, the Losers must find their way back home – having been framed and declared killed in action – to win back their freedom and their reputations.
The plot is a little derelict at times – the antagonist’s motives are frustratingly ambiguous – but thankfully the characters that inhabit it make it worthwhile. The film’s opening scene in the Bolivian jungle tries hard to introduce the Losers in a flurry of quirks and style that initially starts off as annoying but thankfully settles down as the film finds its feet. It soon becomes clear that the film is playing with convention and poking fun at action movies whilst at the same time embracing them. By the end, it becomes a surprisingly warm combination.
This is thanks, in most part, to the cast; an ensemble of stars that, as yet, aren’t quite movie sellers on their own, but perhaps will be in times to come. Thus, we get a rostrum of familiar and not so familiar faces that are all willing to play their part. Jeffrey Dean Morgan – as Clay – proves that he has the charisma to lead an ensemble whilst Zoe Saldana holds her own amidst the machismo. Idris Elba, now cropping up more and more as a deserved off-shoot of his performances in The Wire, adds some grit whilst Chris Evans (recently cast as Captain America) steals the show with his comic solo infiltration halfway through the film. If the cast are to be thanked for raising this film above standard fair, then so too should the writers, who’ve produced a script that is much funnier than most people will expect, and created a duo of villains that get some decent screen time as well as the protagonists, even if their comic qualities do rather dilute their threat factor.
White’s direction develops a bit more subtlety after the opening salvo (though there are some slow-mo touches here and there that the film could do without) and pulls all the elements together into a film that, in the end, just about manages to justify its sequel-baiting conclusion. It’s derivative at times and not entirely without fault, but the film gets by on confidence and relies on the strength of its cast to gloss over the more generic elements. In the end it’s simply a fun ride, which is more than can be said of most exponents of this genre, and as such it just about earns its fourth star.