THE LOSERS

http://www.the-losers.com/

USA 2010  Directed by: Sylvain White Written by: Peter Berg, James Vanderbilt Characters: Andy Diggle Produced by: Kerry Foster, Akiva Goldsman, Joel Silver Cinematography by: Scott Kevan  Editing: David Checel   Music: John Ottman  Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patrick, Holt McCallany, Peter Macdissi, Peter Francis James, Tanee McCall

Once in a blue moon graphic novels containing adult material are adapted for the silver screen. This fan material is traditionally very hard to make into good movies: storyline and characters are often too unconventional, violence levels too high and foul language too frequent, and with just the fan boy crowd knowing the original graphic novels and with strict ratings the marketing opportunities are rather limited.

From the economical point of view you’ll have to give it some serious thought before you greenlight a movie like this. And even then the enterprise can fail miserably. Either you do it a 100% or you don’t do it at all. There is no such thing as half pregnant, and there is also no such thing as half authentic when it comes to comic books with a grown-up audience in mind.

The last PUNISHER – WAR ZONE succeeded because it stayed true to the original (and so did Goldblatt’s PUNISHER before it was censored for an R-rating). ELEKTRA was a joke, because executives figured they have to pour gallons of softener over the movie to make sure it just indicates violence instead of showing it (even TOM & JERRY are more excessive than ELEKTRA). Elektra, in fact, as probably killed more people than any other Marvel character.

And then there was GHOST RIDER, and if you know the graphic novel and have seen the film it needs no further explanation what you should or shouldn’t do when adapting material like this. GHOST RIDER is a wonderful manual of how-not-to-do, and for many more reasons many other great creative works for mature audiences will never make it into cinemas, and if so they’ll be painful to watch or at least utterly forgettable attempts.

Now THE LOSERS has arrived: brash, loud and violent it ploughs its way through territory previously associated with THE PUNISHER, mercenary movies, James Bond franchises, MIAMI VICE or the A-TEAM. It retains a graphic novel’s episodic character, jumping into the story at the beginning and leaving it without a real ending, preparing ground for part two. Nevertheless it’s satisfying enough for us not to leave the theatre puzzled. On the contrary, it leaves us wishing for more.

The comic character of the material is well captured in many of its highly stylized sequences, notably the fabulous initial fight between Clay and Zoe resembling a ballet-like choreography that quickly turns into a mating ritual (which continues with its anticipated last act later). The villain consequently is a larger-than-life figure whose overacting is methodological and fits the character once you get it. The story dares to go far beyond Bond nonsense, dealing with warfare 3.0 and ridiculous amounts of money and material. The plot twists the movie pulls out of the sleeve are equally ridiculous: what works for graphic novels doesn’t necessarily work in movies, so THE LOSERS appears very jumpy at times, with the characters often acting beyond reason and very little insight into their behavior.

That doesn’t mean the characters are flat though: thanks to the humor THE LOSERS feels human and it is actually really funny. Clocking in at about 90 minutes the movie spends most of its time on humor and action (PG-13 that is, and that’s good enough here), and it’s simply too fast paced to go into details. It doesn’t ask questions, it just presents us with the bare facts. We can take it or leave it, but THE LOSERS always quickly moves on. No rest for the wicked.

THE LOSERS is conceptual and comical, and without buying into that there is no way you’ll consider it a good movie. But just like assessing a graphic novel doesn’t exactly follow the same parameters as assessing a work of literature, THE LOSERS scores pretty high once put in perspective. It is anything but perfect, with a low-key cast and director, limited depth and many other small issues, but it still comes out superior to junk like GHOST RIDER thanks to it’s gung-ho attitude and staying true to the comic series.

This isn’t Toontown, this is Space Mountain. The best you can do is to enjoy the ride. If you can’t do that, don’t watch it. If you can, the reward is all yours. So buckle up and never take your eyes off the road ahead.

J.



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