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.
Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is an ordained minister who loses her faith after losing her family in a tragedy and has turned to debunking purported miracles around the world. Along with her handsome religious sidekick Ben (Idris Elba) she explains away one religious phenomenon after another. Then a science teacher (David Morrissey) from a small town called Haven comes to her lecture to ask for help. It turns out the river running through town has turned red with blood and the townspeople are blaming it on a 12-year-old girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who looks a lot like Katherine's dead daughter. Before the religious fanatics of Haven turn into a lynch mob Katherine gets help from the girl's very crazy mother (Andrea Frankle) the town's sheriff (William Ragsdale) and a priest she once worked with (Stephen Rea). Nevertheless plagues start happening: Frogs drop from the skies locusts swarm cows die kids get lice people get boils on their skin and more. Katherine begins wondering if the girl really is to blame and what she has to do to stop it. Two-time Oscar winner Swank once again nails it as a smart strong professor. Some people would say she's slumming doing a horror movie but Swankbrings the necessary gravitas and charm to a potentially one-dimensional role. And she always looks great in a tank top whether she's playing a boxer a boy or a teacher. Her connection with Elba (Daddy's Little Girls) is palpable as well as her connection with Morrissey (Basic Instinct 2). All three of them have seething sensuality and dark secrets that make their characters intriguing every step of the way. Although she may get confused a lot with Dakota Fanning AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) has proven herself a fine young actress and is particularly odd and creepy in The Reaping. The usually great Stephen Rea (Crying Game) is the only one out of place. He seems to be just phoning it in sometimes quite literally. The supporting cast of rural townsfolk is oddball enough to be distinguishable each with their own quirk. Director Stephen Hopkins knows how to put together a suspenseful film. He has helmed the pilot to 24 as well as movies Under Suspicion Predator 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Sometimes however he resorts to cheap scares that really aren't necessary and an overbearing score by John Frizzell leads too obviously into frightening moments. The Reaping is also confusing at times and it's never clear why the plagues are invading this tiny town. Swank delivers long monologues on actual history and Biblical verse but thankfully makes them interesting. Once the plagues unravel however all the pretensions melt away. The special effects aren’t solely dependant on computer graphics even if a few of the final plagues go over-the-top. Overall The Reaping does what it intends to do assuring more than a few jumps.