Rogue Operative Review Special: The A-Team and The Losers
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel
Released by: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Sylvain White
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric
Released by: Roadshow
The A-Team may well be the result of a secret government experiment that transplanted a marine’s brain into the body of a gorilla, then studied it while it played with plastic army men. Conclusion: Smarter than the average gorilla but just as violent and fun.
Rebooting this gimmicky ’80s action series was a better idea than Miami Vice. ‘Splosions can all look the same, the brain-dissolving Michael Bay video clip style has been cookie-cutter since Bad Boys, but having four charismatic characters is indispensible. And these bad boys are having a blast.
It opens broad and dumb, inventively introducing our cartoonish crew as they escape hairy situations to a booming soundtrack. Only Bradley Cooper’s Face (both character name and anatomical feature) is overly smug and irritating, and that’s easily compensated by how welcome Sharlto Copley (aka Wikus from District 9) is as the cackling maniac Murdock. Neeson acquits himself admirably as the unflappable bossman Hannibal and ‘Rampage’ Jackson is given more to work with than he probably deserves.
Once we’ve got these best-in the-business-betrayed-by-their-government rogues in place, the plotting shifts serious. The tale of double- and triple-crossing CIA, FBI and outlaw mercenaries soon becomes intricate enough to engage those with a vestigial brain at the top of their spinal cord, while the mammoth action set-pieces are as thoroughly original as they are flat-out ludicrous. It’s a bit disorienting, switching your intellect on for the narrative then having to take leave of your senses to presume that a flying tank can land in the centre of a lake and just drive out with no explanation. But it’s all handled in good humour.
That’s great news for a film that would’ve satisfied most viewers with a stream of quips and a solid 80 minutes of fireballs and jeep stunts – it didn’t puss out when it came to plotting. It’s no action classic, and we feel funny giving it a double-thumbs up for not being as lobotomising as it could’ve been, but future remakes will be justified if they’re as well-meaning as The A-Team.
The Losers is just as cartoonish as The A-Team, but at least it has an excuse. It’s an adaptation of a comic book series published by DC imprint Vertigo between 2003 and 2006, which was itself a reboot of a WWII comic from the 1970s. In the comic, a crack CIA unit was betrayed by their handler, Max, and spend their time thirsting for revenge and foiling Max’s various plans for world domination.
Apart from opening and closing sequences in which the flesh-and-blood actors freeze-frame into their comic-book selves (the illustrated end credits are worth staying to watch, too), the film doesn’t try that hard to evoke its source format. There’s lots of dynamic slo-mo, but French video-clip veteran Sylvain White struggles to find an original visual flair.
Like The A-Team, The Losers is explicitly misogynist. Women are sexually harassed, sidelined and even summarily executed. Just as Jessica Biel valiantly struggles to scrabble any dignity whatsoever from a role that makes her chase uselessly after the A-Team and hold a torch for Face, so Zoe Saldana is wasted in an underwritten role drenched in sexual imagery. Guns; liquor bottles; Jeffrey Dean Morgan; they’re all cocks to her.
The Losers also feels behind the pop-cultural eight-ball. The most risible scene, involving a child’s teddy bear, would be funny in Tropic Thunder but is played unfortunately straight. Even the cute caper scene in which the team’s motormouthed hacker Jensen (Chris Evans) loudly sings ‘Don’t Stop Believin” is a disappointment – that song has already been ‘done’ onscreen, first by The Sopranos and then by Glee.
Evans is the highlight, though. Along with Jason Patric as the Bond villain-esque Max, he relaxes into the general stupidity and finds the best balance between comedy and action. Amusingly, he’s just as sexy and athletic as his fellow Losers but the script pegs him as the Loseriest of all because he wears glasses and is good with computers. Evans seems determined to carve out a career in comic-book adaptations; look for him soon in Scott Pilgrim vs the World as “evil ex-boyfriend” Lucas Lee.
Among the rest of the cast, Idris Elba tries hard as resentful 2IC Roque; Columbus Short is likeable as family-man pilot Pooch. Spaniard Oscar Jaenada plays Cougar, the team’s sharpshooter, as the world’s deadliest male model. Morgan is meant to be the star – he gets the romantic subplot – but his charisma is made of cardboard.
The Losers is like popcorn: fun to scoff down, but overpuffed, insubstantial and unsatisfying. It’s overshadowed in almost every way by the slicker A-Team; really, you don’t need to look further than their titles to decide which of these two rogue units to back at the cinema.
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