The Losers (2010) (PG-13) ★★★½

Review Date: January 6th, 2011

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. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.