'The Losers': Trouble Boys, By Kurt Loder

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana in search of all the usual action.

[movie id="285449"]"The Losers"[/movie] is the kind of action movie in which two bikini babes can inexplicably pop up in the middle of a firefight and everybody onscreen is too busy dying to even notice. It's also the kind of action movie in which the sight of a helicopter being shot down while carrying small children to safety is followed by a close-up of a teddy bear smoldering in the wreckage. I'm not sure exactly what kind of action movie that is, but this is it.

It's a comic book picture (Andy Diggle's Vertigo series ran from 2003 to 2006), but one that's a little too short on wild satire (as opposed to zingy one-liners) to be outrageous fun, and a little too underfunded to offer any state-of-the-art fireballs or other techno-hubbub. The premise -- good-bad guys versus bad-bad guys -- was already venerable when Kurosawa used it in "Seven Samurai" more than 50 years ago. Here it's muddled with outré James Bond elements, and if it weren't for some of the actors, the film would collapse under its own confusion.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of "Watchmen") plays Colonel Clay, the leader of a CIA team of black-ops specialists on a drug-lord hit mission in the Bolivian jungle who are betrayed by a scheming government sleaze called Max (Jason Patric). Clay's men are the usual assortment of dark-arts wizards, adept at demolition, assassination and computer hijinks. There's the wisecracking Jensen (Chris Evans), the paranoid Roque (Idris Elba), the sweet-natured Pooch (Columbus Short) and the squinty-eyed Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). The boys have gone to ground in a jungle village, soaking up the local cock fights and bar floozies, when they're approached by the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana, of "Avatar"), a pistol-packing beauty so kickass that "the CIA has a standing kill order on her." Aisha offers to smuggle the vengeful team back to the States (in dummy coffins, no problem) and lead them to the conniving Max, whose luxury lair is located in Los Angeles. Clay, who has a taste for dangerous women, agrees to this, and off they all go.

The movie is handicapped by a certain geographical homogeneity. Apart from the Miami sequences -- including an implausibly clamorous South Beach assault in which a giant chopper-borne magnet lifts a truck right up off the street (pure Bond) -- the bulk of the movie was shot in Puerto Rico, which has to do double duty as Mumbai, Dubai, Houston and New Mexico, as well as Bolivia and L.A. (The various faux locations are distinguished by ridiculous highway-style signs embedded in the imagery.) Some scenes, in a triumph of hope over probability, look as if they were shot on random construction sites.

There's also the plot, which is unclear even by action-movie standards. There's some business about a "sonic dematerializer" (capable of sinking whole islands into the sea), and some "next generation" weapons called "snukes," and millions of dollars that have gone missing (some of them into Aisha's personal bank account). If the action were more stylish, this narrative jumble might not matter. But it matters.

Fortunately, Morgan grounds the movie (as best he can) with his grizzled charm, and Evans contributes some lively comic riffs. Best of all, though, is Patric, whose supercilious Max is a camp megalomaniac in the classic Bondian mode, dementedly bent on world domination (or at least "engineering a global terrorist conflict") and determined to do it in flamboyant fashion. (At one point we see him swanning around on a beach with a pretty subordinate scurrying alongside holding a parasol over his head. When she falters in the sand, he shoots her in the face.) Patric is a hoot in this role (he seems to be channeling the sniffy villain played by Dirk Bogarde in the '60s spy spoof "Modesty Blaise"), but his character would be more at home in a different movie. Here, Max throws the rest of the film's familiar action-flick derring-do into unflattering relief. In an attempted sequel setup at the end, Clay says, "I'll be seein' you, Max." Given the low wattage of most of what's come before, though, we doubt that he, or we, ever will.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of [article id="1637665"]"Paper Man"[/article] and [article id="1637648"]"The Back-up Plan,"[/article] also new in theaters this week.

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