REVIEW: The Losers (Sylvain White, 2010)

My direct approach to this DC Comic-based actioner was a bit different than I've taken to any film before. Initially I had next to zero interest, but I read Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt's script in the interest of learning more about various screenwriting styles and became eager to see how the resulting film measured up.

The script makes for an exciting, even riveting read - it's high action for action's sake, led by a dynamic collection of witty characters. It's not unlike The A-Team, but never loses a tongue-in-cheek nature regarding its intended "B" caliber. Frankly, it's impressive just how zippy the script is, as if twice as much was originally written then stripped down to bare essentials. Much would-be exposition is taken as read. Our heroes' origins and villains' motivations, while not entirely breaching fill-in-the-blanks territory, rely on previous knowledge of how these aspects typically develop in similar films. The mentality is clear - all that secondary storytelling just gets in the way of the "boom-boom ka-pow". On the page, the mentality works perfectly.

The final project is stripped further, however, and plowed through at such breakneck speeds the characters are frequently talking over one another, spoiling comedic moments and making an already-simplified plot difficult to interpret. It's a good thing I did read the script, as otherwise I doubt I'd have had any idea what was going on or have cared on some minute level about the protagonists, let alone been able to tell them apart.

Understandable and fitting tweaks were made to suit the production, like a greyhound racing track changing to a cock-fighting ring, but as a trade off certain signature moments ("You know there's a website where you can download MP3s of a donkey farting? How cool is that?" - actually a fair bit of character development in that line, believe it or not) have been traded in for generic ones (basically a bunch of "yo mama" jokes along with "Cats can make over one thousand sounds where a dog can only make ten" in place of our donkey fart).

As for a component not immediately related to script, the cinematography is capable enough. It's of the now-trendy shake-cam variety, but the style is actually warranted while managing to capture the action-oriented end of the scope well enough. Comedic moments are more or less left in the dust. The colors are super-saturated, which winds up hit-or-miss depending on the scene in question.

On-screen talent-wise, Chris Evans is really the sole notable, turning his jaunty character into the only worth remembering. The few times he is focused on, the film is at its best. Otherwise, the cast is stilted, as if they weren't given ample time to read into their roles. The villainous Jason Patric comes off on par with your average student film's lead talent, squandering a potentially hilarious turn.

With my read-first, watch-second order of business for The Losers, the experience was an interesting one, but one of unfortunately unseized potential. A relatively touching epilogue proved I hadn't been completely gypped - something was working on some level - but where this could have (and clearly wanted to) be a franchise, it hardly warrants its feature-length treatment.