“The Losers” is one of those jokey, comic-book-based action movies where things get blown up a lot and nobody takes anything seriously. That in itself is fine, but “The Losers” takes the nonchalance too much to heart and comes across as lazy. It’s big but not big enough to be over-the-top; it’s snarky but not actually funny; it mimics action-flick cliches but doesn’t subvert them enough to be parody. The movie is pointless, but not the fun kind of pointless.
The title characters are an A-Team-ish squad of Army special ops guys who have names like Pooch and Roque and are introduced according to their areas of expertise: Jensen (Chris Evans) is the computer hacker, Pooch (Columbus Short) handles transportation, Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is a sniper, Roque (Idris Elba) is second in command and has a scar on his face, and Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the team leader. They’re executing a mission in Bolivia when they’re targeted by a mysterious CIA figure named Max who wants them dead. They let him think he’s succeeded in blowing them up, then plot how to clear their names (they were accused of wrongdoing during the incident that “killed” them) and bring Max down.
Assisting them is Aisha (Zoe Saldana), a bewitching and athletic gal who has her own reasons for wanting to get to Max. Our introduction to Aisha is emblematic of the film’s wrongheadedness. She flirts with Clay in a bar and gets herself invited to his hotel room, whereupon she reveals that she knows who he is and has ulterior motives. This leads to a knock-down, drag-out fight, in which the room is destroyed and the hotel set afire. It’s only afterward that we learn Aisha wants to HELP Clay, not hurt him — which means the whole fracas was unnecessary, except as an excuse for the movie to show a sexy fight and destroy some stuff.
The problem isn’t that the sequence adds nothing to the story. A lot of action-movie sequences, when you break them down, don’t advance the plot. The problem is that “The Losers” makes no attempt to hide it. Clay and Aisha have a wholly useless fight just because it’s fun to watch attractive people beat each other up. Couldn’t the screenwriters — Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, who collaborated on “The Rundown,” which did this kind of thing a lot better — have found a legitimate reason for it? Eh, why bother?
Max turns out to be played by Jason Patric as a James Bond sort of villain, complete with unexplained and unnecessary physical peculiarity (a withered hand usually covered by a glove). Max is cartoonishly cruel and frequently snide — but, as with most of the film’s elements, not enough to be a parody of such things. He straddles the line between hammy and menacing. The rest of the cast, though eager and photogenic, is left hanging by a script that doesn’t give them clear characters to play.
We’ve recently seen a lot of movies that deliberately overdo the frenzied action, taking it to absurd levels as a means of commenting on how absurd these movies are. “The Losers,” directed by Sylvain White (“Stomp the Yard”), keeps feeling like it wants to do that, but it never cuts loose enough to make it happen. It occupies the middle ground between sincerity and sarcasm, not exciting enough to be taken seriously and not funny enough to laugh at.
C- (1 hr., 38 min.; )