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.
In this third installment however the boys aren’t in the game for the business. No this time it’s personal. When one of their own the irascible Reuben (Elliott Gould) suffers a heart attack after being double-crossed by malevolent hotel mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino) Danny (George Clooney) Rusty (Brad Pitt) Linus (Matt Damon) and the rest of the gang decide to hit Bank where it hurts. They orchestrate it so not only will they ruin the hotelier financially by turning the tables on the precept that the house always wins but also hurt Bank’s pride by giving his big new Las Vegas hotel a bad rating. The Ocean crew even manages to rope in their old nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) on the scam since Benedict can’t stand Bank or the monstrosity he has built on the Strip. The plan is a bit convoluted and seemingly damn near impossible but the moral of the story is this: Mess with an Ocean you get pummeled by the waves. What has always made the Ocean's installments work is the freewheeling spirit and good-ol'-boy camaraderie from its eye-candy cast. Even though they are a bit more somber this time around--you know worried about Reuben and all--the actors are still clearly enjoying themselves. Clooney and Pitt continue to be the suave ringleaders finishing each other’s sentences and commiserating over the problems they are having with their respective spouses/girlfriends--which in turn explains why Tess (Julia Roberts) and Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) aren’t in the movie. Basically this “isn’t their fight ” and they aren’t needed. Actually it’s Damon’s Linus who gets a love interest--sort of. The usually green Linus gets a chance to prove his mettle by donning a disguise (a big fake nose to be exact) and wooing Bank’s second-in-command the tough-as-nails Abigail Sponder as part of the plan. She’s played winningly by Ellen Barkin who fits right into this gentleman’s club. All the others are also in top form proving they could keep making these movies and we’d never get tired of watching them play. At this point in the Ocean's franchise director Steven Soderbergh’s work is pretty much done for him which is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. The good part (and I’ve said this before) is Soderbergh definitely has one of the keenest eyes in the business and with Ocean's Thirteen he makes you feel like you’re coming home after spending the last movie floundering abroad. The guys are more at ease and the surroundings are comfortably familiar while the massive complicated suspend-your-disbelief undertaking crackles and zings as it's being put into motion. Soderbergh also uses the split-screen technique to great effect. The bad thing is we’ve seen it all before. Ocean's Thirteen doesn’t really offer anything particularly new as far as what we’ve come to expect and there are a few times Soderbergh seems to be phoning it in. But honestly is there anything wrong with that? Not really. Not with this great cast that is aging and gelling like fine wine bringing Sin City to its knees.
Loosely based on the (rather lame) 1960 Rat Pack film dashing understated-but-cool thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) orchestrates the most sophisticated elaborate casino heist in history less than 24 hours after being released from jail. In one night Danny's handpicked 11-man crew of specialists--including an ace card sharp (Brad Pitt) a young-but-masterful pickpocket (Matt Damon) and a demolition genius (Don Cheadle)--will attempt to steal over $150 million from three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) the elegant ruthless entrepreneur who just happens to be dating Danny's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). To score the cash Danny will have to risk his life and risk his chance of ever reconciling with Tess. But if all goes according to his intricate nearly impossible plan Danny won't have to choose between his stake in the heist and his high-stakes reunion with Tess. Or will he?
The star wattage in this movie could solve all of California's electricity problems in one fell swoop. George Clooney easily passes himself off as suave mastermind Danny Ocean playing the role with understated class and elegance. Brad Pitt takes a similar arc as Rusty though he's slightly more dispassionate and professional than Clooney's visionary Ocean. Matt Damon is convincing as the inexperienced-but-talented pickpocket who's essential to getting in the vault. And Julia is simply Julia--glamorous and charming a smart cookie who is being wooed by the evil ruthless (and anal-retentive) casino mogul so elegantly portrayed by Andy Garcia. Affecting a Cockney accent and attitude Don Cheadle's portrayal of the demolition expert is a tour de force. Carl Reiner is absolutely hilarious as Saul Bloom an aging old-timer who comes out of retirement to infiltrate the casino as a debonair arms dealer. Elliott Gould Bernie Mac Scott Caan and Casey Affleck round out the cast nicely with inspired performances especially Gould's and Mac's.
Soderbergh cemented his reputation last year as a director of serious weight when both Traffic and Erin Brockovich were nominated for the Best Film Academy Award and garnered him two Best Director nominations---an unprecedented feat. Ocean's Eleven marks Soderbergh's departure from the serious to the seriously fun. This is one of the most stylish most elegantly filmed movies I have ever seen. Not only are all the actors beautiful but so are the locations clothes and shot selections. The speed and pacing of the flick belie the movie's length; Soderbergh clearly had fun making this movie. He shot this film very intimately often allowing the camera to stay close on the actors a tad longer than expected which lets their personas shine through--thus their personalities draw you into the movie as much as the caper itself. It's not often you see a movie where the direction has as much wit and cleverness as the plot itself. Ocean's Eleven makes no pretense to be something other than a jaunty cheeky exhilarating heist movie. So while the plot's not too deep all is forgiven considering the level of acting and direction.