Identical Spec Ops Movie #1: The Losers Review

When someone in Hollywood has an idea that makes dollar signs pop up in the heads of studio executives, you can bet that it will only take a few days before someone from another studio “coincidentally” has the same idea. Giving two people the same idea and sequestering them in separate rooms to write the script will result in two different storylines, so the movies actually end up being quite different when you watch them, but that doesn’t stop the promo blurbs and trailers from looking damn near identical.

Remember The Year of Two Asteroid Movies (Deep Impact and Armageddon) and The Year of Two Volcano Movies (Volcano and Dante’s Peak)? Well this year is the year of not two but THREE identical spec ops action movies: The Losers, The A-Team, and The Expendables. The premise goes something like this:

A handful of operatives known as the best in their field find themselves betrayed and facing impossible odds of survival as they attempt to perform ridiculous feats of physics-defying action to get their lives back and stop a bad guy from doing something really bad.

As far as telling them apart goes, The A-Team is the one with Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper and that guy who looks like Mr. T. A tank falls from an airplane in the trailer. The Expendables is the one with Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, and Jet Li that has Arnold Schwarzenegger in the trailer. The Losers is the one with the guy who played The Comedian in Watchmen and that blue girl from Avatar. In the trailer, the guy who plays Human Torch in the Fantastic 4 movies pretends to shoot security guards with his fingers.

It is this last one that we concern ourselves with today.

The Losers starts in the jungle with our five intrepid heroes rescuing some kids from a building that’s about to be blown up by a guided missile. The requisite tragedy occurs, lives are ruined, and we jump from there into the real movie.

Oh no someone at the top wants us dead, blah blah revenge

By this point you will probably be extremely confused and asking yourself questions like “what’s going on?” “why are those people going that?” “why did that character suddenly start acting a completely different way??” Two characters will be having a nice conversation, then whoops! They’re fighting and the hotel is on fire.

For the record, never let these people stay in your hotel.
They destroy every one they stay in.

All I can say is: just go with it. It gets better. In fact, around the time that helicopters start getting hijacked and characters start making jokes about throwing other characters off buildings, you’ll be thinking: “you know what? I don’t care. I’m having fun.”

Wooo hooo! That was a big-ass explosion!

If there’s one thing that will instantly endear me to a movie it’s unexpected humor. I love Dirty Deeds (the Australian one) and Gettin’ Square for this reason, and it totally sold me on this movie too. Pink-shirted flower-named 8-year-old soccer teams, singing in elevators, throwing people off of buildings, wanton murder, shooting people with fake guns, this movie had me killing myself laughing. “We appreciate you meeting us in a one-storey building,” says an Indian scientist to right-hand bad guy Wade (Holt McCallany) who threw the scientist’s colleague off a high rise in Abu Dhabi the last time they’d met.

JENSEN: I’m warning you, the government turned me into a telekinetic killing machine. Run before I stop your hearts with my mind!

I wouldn’t have expected such great humor from the credited writers. Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt write things like Friday Night Lights and Zodiac, so perhaps their bodies were taken over by aliens that day, or they just lifted it all straight out of the comic book The Losers is based on (written by Andy Diggle), but I doubt it. I detect a whiff of a ghost writer of the Iron Man persuasion, but alas I’ll never know for sure.

TONY STARK: Tell me you never think about that night.
PEPPER POTTS: Are you talking about the night that we danced and went up on the roof…
and then you went downstairs to get me a drink and you left me there, by myself?
Is that the night you’re talking about?

The thing to remember about The Losers is that the plot is largely irrelevant. It exists to link a series of fun action set pieces and provide characters with the excuse to exchange clever bits of dialogue. You don’t even really need to bother with remembering the their names, because only Jensen (Chris Evans) and Pooch (Columbus Short) have lives outside of work, at least that the movie bothers to mention.

What? It’s my niece’s soccer team!

This especially applies to Aisha (Zoe Saldana), who, although she has a role to play in the irrelevant plot, is only really in the movie to bone Clay (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and wear tight clothes while firing weapons. Even Clay himself doesn’t make a lot of sense where she’s concerned.

CLAY: You totally screwed us over and nearly got us killed!
AISHA: Let’s bone.
CLAY: Okay!

Actually that bit’s probably not too far from reality. I’m guessing not many straight guys would tell Zoe Saldana to put her clothes back on, even if she’d just murdered a bus full of children and hidden their severed body parts under the floor.

Be honest. How many of you are looking at the guns right now?

You’re probably thinking that these epic writing failures made me hate the movie, but actually I really enjoyed it a lot. Apparently I was seeing a different movie from all the other critics who have been lambasting it for being silly. But since it’s a comic book movie (and it reminds you of this fact every other minute), I think that inherent unreality actually fits. When’s the last time you read a realistic comic book?


Max (Jason Patric) the bad guy’s plan is especially retarded. It makes no sense. He seems to have unlimited resources that are created out of thin air, and I have no idea how he could have insinuated himself into The Losers‘ chain of command. No rational person would ever do any of the things he does in this movie. But all you have to do is watch one scene he’s in and you realize that he is (in clinical terms) batshit insane, so you can almost believe he actually would think his plan was a great plan.

MAX: Did you get me my 18-man fire team?
WADE: Yes.
MAX: Kill them.
WADE: The 18 men?
MAX: Yes.
WADE: Can’t I just fire them?
MAX: If you think that would be easier. Did you give them the intel on Clay and his team?
WADE: Yes.
MAX: Annnd we’re back to killing them.

Aside from the cool opening animated credit sequence and the general insanity of plot and characters, there are yet more reminders that this is a comic book story. The weapon the bad guy gets his hands on (nicknamed a Snook) seems like it was born in a world that resulted from a one night stand between Mass Effect and Inspector Gadget. When they cut to a scene of the weapon doing its thing I wondered if they’d put on a reel of a different movie by mistake. The best part is that the mechanism by which the weapon destroys things is irrelevant. It could easily be replaced by a nuclear bomb or a vial of anthrax.

As Jensen points out, the Snook is not unlike a glowing Easter egg of death

This total disregard for the laws of physics makes for some really spectacular action sequences. And if there’s one thing (other than unexpected humor) that sells me on a movie, it’s fun, unique action setpieces. Some of the stuff they pull off in this movie I’ve never seen or even thought of before: helicopter hijackings, stealing whole armored cars with giant magnets, a truly awesome motorcycle/jet plane takedown. It would never work in real life of course, but real life is boring. That’s why comic book movies exist.

I was bored… and now I’m not. I want one of those!

Director Sylvain White is also in the club of “people you could not predict would do a good job by looking at their previous work” (he directed Stomp the Yard and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer) but the bombastic smash-cut unsteady-camera action work he does actually works for me, unlike when Paul Greengrass did it in the Bourne movies.

There’s even a rooftop parcour-type bit like the opening of Casino Royale… which was not a Paul Greengrass movie

Maybe it’s because he keeps the shots wide enough most of the time that you can actually see what’s going on. Although there are a few weird close-ups of Cougar-the-sniper-guy (Oscar Jaenanda)’s nostril hairs.

I only have three lines of dialogue, but my nose hair is very evocative.

The most disappointing part of the movie was the ending, which does resolve the irrelevant plot but leaves the character closure hanging, no doubt in anticipation of a sequel. It feel more like a forced halt than an ending. Like Clay and his men had this conversation after the big actioney climax.

TEAM: Should we keep going, boss?
CLAY: Naw, we’re coming up on 90 minutes, so let’s just call it a day and save the rest for the sequel.

Though true comparison between the three movies will have to wait until the other two have actually been released, I can say that I expect (and have expected since I saw the trailers) to like The Losers best. The A-Team looks pretty amusing but I’m not a Bradley Cooper fan, and I pretty much dislike the entire cast of The Expendables.

Therefore, this is my prediction.

However, the only thing that’s definite right now is that The Losers is worth the 10 bucks I paid to get in, and that I’ll probably buy the DVD.

Buy The Losers on DVD

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