On paper Sylvain White’s ensemble thriller The Losers doesn’t display much promise. Its budget (around $25 million) is miniscule by action-movie standards; its cast apart from female lead Zoe Saldana is unexceptional; and its plot about a group of disgraced Special Forces operatives who seek revenge against the shady arms dealer (Jason Patric) who had them framed is hardly original. And yet The Losers makes for a surprisingly entertaining ride an apt prelude to the summer blockbuster season. Call it The B-Team.
Though based on a graphic novel (what Hollywood movie today isn’t?) The Losers boasts no superheroes just a quintet of mercenaries with complementary skills and catchy names like Cougar and Pooch. Presumed dead after being double-crossed during a black ops mission in the Bolivian jungle they languish in a third-world limbo until a mysterious woman named Aisha (Saldana) approaches their leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with an enticing opportunity.
The Losers establishes a lively pace from the outset and with the exception of one appallingly disjointed planning scene director White adroitly handles the challenges of a plus-size cast. Save for a few extraneous twists that mar the film’s second half screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Peter Berg maintain a straightforward storyline keeping the tone determinedly light (always best when dealing with the constraints of a PG-13 rating) but never too cartoonish -- at least not by comic book-movie standards.
Morgan who previously underwhelmed in Zack Snyder’s doomed Watchmen adaptation isn’t the ideal choice to headline the film’s male cast and he appears hopelessly overmatched by Saldana. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if The Losers didn’t try to sell us on a hastily-hatched romantic subplot between the two which serves only to provide us with a few scantily-clad glimpses of the sultry Avatar star. Needless to say there are worse sins a filmmaker can commit.
The only aspect of The Losers that truly vexed me was the performance of one of its castmembers. I doubt that Joe Johnston director of the upcoming Captain America adaptation caught a screening of this film before he chose to award Chris Evans the coveted starring role in the big-budget comic-book flick. Because if he had I’m certain he’d have chosen differently. Evans’ clownish wiseass routine is instantly and perpetually grating. Even when delivering the most innocuous of line readings he radiates a natural douchiness that no Super Serum can fix.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Cliff and Cydney are happy newlyweds headed to Hawaii for a quiet honeymoon on a remote portion of the island of Kauai. Their marital bliss is abruptly interrupted however when they receive word that just a few days prior a pair of newlyweds not unlike themselves were murdered on Maui and that the killers believed to be a man and a woman were still at large.
Dismayed by the unsettling news Cliff and Cydney nonetheless resolve to move forward with their honeymoon but start to become anxious when they encounter not one but two exceedingly strange couples each of whom seemingly fit the profile of the killers. Miles away from civilization unable to get a decent cell phone signal and seemingly surrounded by possible murderers they begin to wonder if they might be the next victims.
WHO’S IN IT?
Playing the part of Cliff is Steve Zahn a prolific character actor best known for supporting roles in films like Rescue Dawn and Sunshine Cleaning. As a jittery Hollywood screenwriter who too often lets his overactive imagination get the best of him Zahn’s performance is the most credible aspect of the movie. In the role of his wife Cydney is Resident Evil series star Milla Jovovich demonstrating how truly unremarkable she can be when not cast opposite expressionless zombies.
Despite being saddled with most of the film’s worst lines Hitman star Timothy Olyphant proves convincing as Nick a wild-eyed survivalist who claims to have served as an army special forces operative in Iraq. Laying it on a little too thick with the fake Southern accent is Kiele Sanchez who plays Nick’s equally suspicious girlfriend.
Director David Twohy (Pitch Black The Chronicles of Riddick) makes an earnest attempt at crafting a modern-day murder mystery and for the most part he does a commendable job of messing with audience expectations setting the stage for a major second-act plot twist that proves every bit as surprising as advertised.
Twohy is one of the more likable Hollywood directors and it’s good to see him back from the dead after the Riddick disaster set fire to his career. Unfortunately he falls headlong into the M. Night Shyamalan trap with A Perfect Getaway focusing too much on pulling off the big twist and forsaking just about every other element of the movie. To be fair Twohy’s film isn’t nearly as dreadful as Shyamalan’s recent Razzie-amassing efforts like The Happening and Lady in the Water but its deficiencies are similarly multifaceted. Awkward dialogue mediocre performances by Jovovich and Sanchez and an excessively aimless pre-twist plotline are just a few of the problems that plague the movie.
But my biggest gripe with A Perfect Getaway is that Twohy fills the story with so many seemingly important plot devices which end up going nowhere that the film could very well be re-titled Red Herring: The Movie. At a certain point you throw up your hands and ask “Well then is any of this s--t real?” And the answer is: No probably not. But isn’t Kauai beautiful?
Admittedly the twist is pretty darn clever. Too bad we have to wait over an hour to see it.
The climax features an excruciating scene in which a key character’s cell phone previously assumed to be out of service receives a sales call from an Indian-accented telemarketer. Rather than simply hang up and dial 911 the character pleads with the befuddled phone company rep to alert the police with predictable lack of success. All this while a deranged killer stalks the vicinity. Characters that stupid deserve to die.
A young Mexican woman Maya (Pilar Padilla) is anxious to come to America and live a better life. In a daring opener she illegally crosses the California/Mexican border and with a few glitches she eventually joins her older sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) in Los Angeles. For Rosa a life trying to support her two children and tend to her sick husband has been hard-she is well aware of the harsh realities of Latinos in the U.S. But the optimistic and eager Maya nonetheless wants to work with Rosa at her job as a building janitor. Unfortunately her views quickly sour when the conditions on the job become almost unbearable especially under a tyrannical and lecherous boss. Then she disccovers her true voice. With the help of a passionate union activist Sam (Adrien Brody) Maya fights for her workplace to join the "Justice for Janitors" union. Rosa believes these actions will only end in disaster but Maya is convinced she can win every battle on her own terms. Her fight ultimately leads to unexpected consequences--and sacrifices--in the young woman's life.
Director Ken Loach blends a combination of experienced film actors with raw newcomers to form a truly excellent ensemble cast but spirited Mexican actress Pilar Padilla's debut performance is what draws you into the film. Loach originally did not consider her for the part because she didn't speak English but through improvisations in Mexico where she acted as a sparring partner for other candidates her sheer presence made the camera gravitate towards her. With an intensive crash course in English she became Maya. Also superb is Elpidia Carrillo (Salvador) whose jaded yet fiercely independent Rosa counteracts Maya's youthful innocence. In the pivotal scene where Rosa lets Maya know how much she has truly sacrficed for Maya and her family the audience is just as horrified as Maya--and riveted. Indie favorite Adrien Brody (Liberty Heights) does a nice job as Sam the union activist whose guerilla methods provide some interesting comic relief and his and Padilla's love scenes are at once sweetly sexy and slightly goofy.
Though the beauty of Bread and Roses is that it gives an intimate and social portrait of the real life struggles Latinos face in contemporary Los Angeles British director Loach comes to the story as an outsider much as Maya does when she first gets to Los Angeles. Nonetheless it offers insight into the experiences of a extremely hard-working group of people who once thought of America as the place to make a life for themselves. When they arrive in this land of plenty however many find they have to get what jobs they can for very little money--and with little support from the establishment. The rights of the working man is not an unfamiliar theme in films but to have it treated from a Latino perspective is refreshing. Loach also uses both Spanish and English subtitles often switching mid-sentence as the actors speak both languages at the same time. The technique is a tad hard to follow at first but it eventually flows immersing the viewer into the reality of this world.