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The Losers

Ah, DC Vertigo. You should be a fertile source of dark and edgy movie material, if not gripping at least atmospheric and with a point of view that covers up for any bald spots in storytelling. Then somebody delivered The Losers to Akiva Goldsman. Thus does a more adult riff on The A-Team end up looking like no better than the D-Team.

In The Losers, actually directed by Sylvain White, a ragtag group of special ops guys get assigned to take down a drug lord in South America. When they realize that the guy uses kids as drug mules, their leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) tries to abort the mission.

Of course, far more nefarious forces are at work than the group, awkwardly dubbed The Losers, could possibly imagine. If they are working for the CIA, it's been hijacked by the mysterious Max (Jason Patric), a single-gloved megalomaniac who accidentally wandered in from an old James Bond movie.

Now believed dead by the U.S. Government and reviled for a crime they did not - oh, heck, there's just not going to be anything original going on in this film no matter how hard I try to make it sound otherwise. The least that White could do would be to make up for the staleness of the premise by giving it some style and wit.

Style he has, but it gets overused to compensate. If all the slow motion shots in this movie were played at normal speed, it might be up to half an hour shorter. When a sequence gets directly lifted out of the source material, it brings a moment of competence, such as an office building team-up between Chris Evans' Jensen and Oscar Jaenada's sharpshooter Cougar. But such moments are few and far between.

They're made all the more precious by a leaden script that thinks all of its dialogue is precious. Credited to Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, it's a careening mess loaded with witty banter that can barely coax a smile out of the audience. Full of supposedly sarcastic exchanges, it strands actors like Patric, Morgan and the still trying very hard Idris Elba as the scarred Roque.

And that's what makes The Losers so frustrating. It's got a handful of actors who are not only sincerely trying, but would be succeeding if they had better support.

Morgan plays world-weary very well, and he's waiting for another role on par with the Comedian in Watchmen to cement his reputation as a thinking action hero. Unfortunately, his scenes take him from brooding to horny (thanks to Zoe Saldana's appearance) to ridiculously happy without a lot of build-up in between.

Given only a little prosthetic make-up to create a character, Elba struggles gamely with the material. He has a brooding intensity that works as well on the big screen as it does on television; if only he could develop as intensely sharp a taste for material.

As Aisha, the token female also seeking revenge on the shadowy Max, Saldana runs through her usual tricks. Already her smoldering eye-batting feels old, but when the inevitable sex scene happens with Morgan, it's not quite her fault it doesn't feel earned. Instead, it's just gratuitous and a set-up for another slow-motion sequence.

Let's just put it on the table now - if a movie is adapted from a graphic novel, it should still function as a movie and not waste a lot of time reminding us that it comes from the funny pages. There just aren't enough readers of any title to be pandering to them like that, and bringing in comic book imagery starts to seem like a crutch or worse, an apology for the weakness of material.

Yet it seems hard to believe that the source material is that weak. The Losers has been a pretty successful title for Vertigo, and it just seems terribly watered down here. Thanks to the movie, however, I may never know for sure. It killed my desire to pick up the book.

And sadly, that makes Vertigo the real loser here.

Derek McCaw

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