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'The Losers' wins on points

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
Zoe Saldana and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in "The Losers."
Zoe Saldana and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in "The Losers."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Losers" is based on Andy Diggle's Vertigo comic book
  • Film stars Chris Evans, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Columbus Short and Zoe Saldana
  • It musters a modicum of snap, crackle and pop, but it's hard not to feel short-changed
RELATED TOPICS
  • Movies
  • Movie Reviews
  • Hollywood

(CNN) -- If you've been to the movies recently, you've probably been pummeled with trailers for interchangeable all-star action movies: "The Expendables," "The A-Team" and "The Losers." Mercenaries are in this year, and khaki is the new black.

"The Losers" is first out of the blocks, and it's a cheerfully vulgar shoot-'em-up that doesn't have a serious bone in its pumped-up body.

Based on Andy Diggle's Vertigo comic book (itself loosely inspired by the old DC comic), the movie doesn't really flow; it just spurts out in quick, oily jets. It's actually less like a comic book and more like a 90-minute trailer: all the best bits stuck end to end and the filler condensed into a pithy line or (better yet) a clubby music cue. (The Kills' "U R A Fever" comes up twice -- once for a fight scene and then again for a sex scene -- but there's no doubt the fight is the turn-on, and it lasts much longer, too.)

If you've seen the trailer, you'll feel you're halfway there, and if you caught co-writer Peter Berg in "Smokin' Aces" a couple of years back, you'll know what else is in store.

The Losers are some kind of CIA black ops squad, but only for a nanosecond. There are five of them, each with his own wardrobe fetish and each with a prescribed skill set: Clay is the leader (Jeffrey Dean Morgan from "Watchmen"), and he looks good with one shirt-tail hanging out. Jensen (Chris Evans) is tech support and comic relief in a series of nasty T-shirts. Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is a sniper and never separated from his cowboy hat. Pooch (Columbus Short) is the driver and family man. Roque (Idris Elba, aka Stringer Bell from "The Wire") is second-in-command, a knife expert with a scar down his cheek.

They're a bit lightweight in star power -- Evans is the biggest draw and the most fun -- and they're not so badass that they're willing to take out a Bolivian crime boss when they realize he's surrounded himself with children.

In rescuing the kids, the Losers seal their own death warrant with their controller, Max, a super-patriot whose precise role in U.S. intelligence is shrouded in secrecy but who has been written as a cross between Dick Cheney and Dr. No (though Jason Patric, who plays him, resembles a psychotically soft-spoken Warren Beatty).

Left for dead in the jungle, the team is rescued, sort of, by a high-kicking beanpole with an open credit line. This is Aisha (Zoe Saldana), and she hires the Losers to bring down Max.

"How do I know I can trust you?" Clay wants to know.

"Because if I was lying, I wouldn't have used the words 'suicide mission,' " she very reasonably points out.

Locked into the faddish slam-cut video game look and filtered (perhaps in deference to a string of Central American locations) in malarial shades of green and yellow, "The Losers" wants to seem cutting edge, though it clings to a quaint Saturday morning serial black-and-white morality. Max isn't just down on kids, he plans to get his paws on "next-generation" weapons, kick-start a war or two, destabilize the developing world and put the U.S. back on top. Laughable!

Directed by Sylvain White ("Stomp the Yard"), the movie musters a modicum of snap, crackle and pop, but the whole shooting match is delivered in such an assiduously shorthand style that when the smoke clears, it's hard not to feel a teensy bit short-changed.