Five men entered Bolivia on a mission. Jensen (Chris Evans) is the tech guy. Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is the silent sniper. Pooch (Columbus Short) is the driver. Roque (Idris Elba) is handy with knives. And Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) commands them all. They were meant to take out a drug lord's compound. They weren't expecting twenty-five kids being used as drug mules. At first, our heroes make sure that the kids make it out alive and get loaded onto a helicopter transport in their stead. But then our baddie, a mystery man named Max (Jason Patric), makes sure that the helicopter gets taken out. And now this team -- The Losers -- want to take Max out.
It only seems fair.
Especially after ramping things up to the tune of "Black Betty," a bunch of dead kids seems like a hell of a way to kick off your not-ready-for-summertime action flick (top that, The A-Team!), but director Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) and writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt (The Rundown) don't dwell on that fact for long. It's just reason enough to strand the allegedly-dead mercenaries in Bolivia, working in doll factories while waiting for Aisha (Zoe Saldana) to show up. She's got resources to spare and a similar mission in mind -- bring Max down -- and soon enough, the Losers are Stateside and ready to wreak havoc on his sinister operation.
The rest of The Losers does indeed go through the world-saving, globe-trotting motions, but at least it throttles through them with a cheesy, breezy swagger and a surprising amount of directorial flair from Mr. White. The action is violent without being bloody (this is a PG-13 comic-book adaptation after all), hectic without becoming incomprehensible. And every member of the ensemble revels in the one note they each get to play: Morgan is the cocksure leader who may be getting too close to Saldana to know which way is up, Elba plays his right-hand man trying to make sure he and they aren't getting played, Evans is an amusingly flustered would-be ladies' man, Jaenada is a charmingly certain ladies' man and one hell of a back-up with his rifle and scope, Short is proud of his escape savvy (unless it's time to think of his pregnant wife back home, of course), and Saldana alternates between sultry and smoldering, depending almost entirely on her wardrobe and whether she's indoors or outside.
As for Max, well, I can't say that I was expecting his evil plot to be worthy of a Bond villain (it involves sonic nukes that can disintegrate an entire island and intentionally provoke international conflict, natch), but I also wasn't expecting Max to be played by Patric with a personality straight out of Shane Black's screenplays circa 1991. When we meet him, he's contending with a lackey who mistook his rough-this-guy-up head nod for a toss-him-off-the-roof head nod. When a strong gust of wind momentarily blows his secretary's umbrella off-course, he simply asks for that lackey's gun and fires his secretary. Patric plays it to the hilt, knowing that we've seen this bad guy before and aware that he may not get to let loose like this again for a good while.
He's most emblematic of the impish charm that keeps the flick afloat when familiar contempt should by all rights take it apart. Two epilogues and one overplayed Journey joke suggest that White and company may care more about their characters than we ever do; then again, in the movie, the Losers are the very best at what they do. At the movies, The Losers is just good enough to get the job done.