" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Let’s see. I’ve made tea. I’ve thumbed through the newly arrived New Yorker. I’ve read a few Facebook posts and skimmed Twitter. I even forced myself to plow through a Christopher Hitchens’ article about the dark side of Dickens in the May issue of the Atlantic. I’ve been doing all this by way of procrastinating, delaying the moment when I must write the following sentence: To my mind, The Losers is a major waste of time.

Now, I know, most movies offer at least a modicum of pleasure, if only at the fringes: a chuckle here or there, a tasty small performance, a toe-tapping soundtrack, maybe even a tricky camera move. And, yes, I also know someone immediately will argue the other side of The Losers’ case. Fanboys may well ask how it’s possible to reject a movie that offers a view of Zoe Saldana in her underwear? It’s an argument, I suppose, but even the presence of the beautiful Saldana (of Avatar, Death at a Funeral and Star Trek fame) did nothing to alter my opinion about the latest movie to roll off Hollywood’s comic-book assembly line.

An A-team of Losers
An A-team of Losers

Look, I’m not a comic-book movie bigot. I’m an ardent supporter of Kick-Ass, which had the right boisterous spirit, the right approach to violence and the right director, Matthew Vaughn. It also had an unexpectedly outre sense of humor about itself. Maybe the source material was better, too. For the record: The Losers comic books — written by Andy Diggle — revolve around a group of renegade soldiers who battle the CIA because the agency had the gall to attempt to assassinate them. (Or so I learned from Wikipedia.)

In this moment of extreme paranoia about government, the idea of a full-scale revolt against the CIA has some promise, although government haters seem far less likely to take aim at the CIA and FBI than at the IRS. For all its attempted muscularity, The Losers seems uninterested in dabbling in the darker side of its noisy preoccupations, something you’d think might have come more easily for a movie that begins with a scene in Bolivia that includes the death of 25 children.

The group known as The Losers, born out of that terrible Bolivian moment, has a distressingly generic feel. Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) leads the team with what only can be described as an alarming lack of charisma. I’m not going to name the rest of the characters except to note that they are defined more by function than personality: The guy who drives; the guy who understands all matters technical; the guy who handles the explosives and the expert marksman.

At one point, I wondered if the movie would have been more interesting had Idris Elba, who plays an explosives expert named Roque, been cast as the group’s leader. The guy has no-nonsense appeal. And I would like to have seen a bit more of Columbus Short, who plays a Loser who can drive any vehicle. (Poor Short, Hollywood owes him something; he’s also featured in the dismal Death at a Funeral.)

Saldana signs on to play Aisha, a woman who enters the picture claiming that she can help Clay and his cohorts exact revenge on Max (Jason Patric), the rogue CIA guy who set them up and who’s involved in a plot to set off a weapon called a Snuke or, if you prefer the technical term, “a sonic dematerializer.” A negligible attempt at storytelling serves as little more than an excuse for explosions, fights and comic-book style mayhem, little of it presented with aplomb.

Director Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) seems to subscribe the Cuisinart school of camera work and editing. He makes a few attempts at acknowledging the comic-book origins of the material, but even as it hopscotches around the globe, The Losers feels cheesy and second-rate.

The Losers (certainly a brave name for any movie) takes occasional stabs at seriousness. Think Walter Hill for gamers. (Hill? Check out early work such as Warriors or Extreme Prejudice.) Real comic book movies - especially those that derive from what seems a second tier of comic-book life — should be fearless. But without galvanizing star turns or any real wit, The Losers plays like an alternate universe version of an action movie that splatters upon arrival.

So, yes, I call it a waste, but suggest an alternative: Multiple viewings of Kick-Ass.