Maybe we've reached the tipping point of Hollywood's infatuation with comic book characters, at least those who don't have "-man" attached to their names.
Batman, Superman, Spider-Man — those guys have mileage left in their capes and masks. But with Kick-Ass not quite living up to its title last week, and The Losers poised to confirm its label, we have to believe the rush of relatively obscure comic books on screen is subsiding.
The Losers is the subgenre's unsatisfying coda, essentially a run-of-the-thrill action flick with dashes of animation reminding viewers that, yes, this comes from a comic book, too. That's just about the only way to tell. Without previous knowledge of Andy Diggle's comics, The Losers looks like every other globetrotting gunpowder flick in which good guy bullets never miss and bad guy bullets never hit their targets.
These Losers don't have super powers, just very large guns, bombs and knives with no reluctance to use them. Nothing wrong with ballistic entertainment but the makers of The Losers gutted the blood sport appeal to obtain a more bankable PG-13 rating. Notice how director Sylvain White cuts away from bullets and shrapnel ripping through flesh and tamps down the sex and profanity. The Losers is sanitized for box office protection.
Not that explicitness would help this movie, which doesn't quite qualify as having a plot. There's a racially diverse band of trained CIA killers with names like Pooch and Cougar, targeted for assassination by a rogue spy named Max (Jason Patric, the only person who seems aware of what a joke this project is).
Max is collecting "snukes" — sonic weapons that destroy without harming the environment, just in time for Earth Day. His multibillion-dollar budget is condensed to a computer drive for easy access, which doesn't explain the shower of currency when Max's armored car blows up. The Losers has no time for details; it has too much mayhem to zip between, with frenzied editing that might cause a seizure.
The hook is seeing the stars of recent, better action flicks behind the triggers. Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("the Comedian" in Watchmen) plays the squad's grim leader, Clay. Chris Evans (Fantastic Four and the upcoming Captain America) is the wacky, wisecracking prelude to The A-Team's "Face" and "Murdock" later this summer. Zoe Saldana of Avatar loses the Na'Vi blue skin tint but none of her sex appeal.
They each have their moments but not nearly enough to make The Losers more than a future staple of Spike TV, and a limp pre-emptive strike against The A-Team. White's shapeless shoot-'em-up is only a C-team effort, at best.
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.