Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Losers; working down to a budget

The guys that made the Losers had to make a little go a long way, and it's nowhere more apparent than the climax of the movie, which takes place among containers in the port of Los Angeles and looks as though it was, at best, shot for the pilot of a TV cop show on basic cable. Michael Bay probably spends more on donuts in the course of shooting the B roll for his spectaculars than Canal+ gave the crew of the Losers to make the whole movie.

As is so often the case, working against limitations forces you to produce something which overcomes them. Modern action movies tend to drown in their own budgets. The Losers is a fun cheap little movie which gets by almost entirely on ridiculous levels of cheery charm. Its snarky villain is irredeemably evil, yet walks the fine line between quip dispensing killing machine and lone genius in a world of thugs with more panache than anyone I've seen lately. It was a bit of a surprise to see that he was played by Jason Patric, who I really didn't think had it in him, not that I spend much time thinking about Jason Patric (me and everyone else, sadly). Its heroes, such as they are, are cheery lunks with an endless line of credit at the one-liner store. More action would have just got in the way of the good bits.

Of which there are, in an unfashionably short movie, quite a few. The villain's sidekick throws a guy off a roof in Dubai, only to be rebuked by the villain for taking too broad an interpretation of a nod which was just supposed to mean punch the guy in the head; at most, break a finger. Later the partners of the chuckee meet up with the sidekick again; the first line of the meeting is "Thank you for agreeing to meet us in a single story structure." The leader of our heroes meets up with the action chick (If Zoe Saldana, last seen in both Star Trek and Avatar, can actually bend herself in half like she does in that scene - and come to think of it, with the budget they had, I don't know how they could have faked it - she's even more amazing than I used to think she was) who asks how he came to Bolivia "On a cruise ship." Beat "We're a landlocked country." Chris Evans, who I didn't even know existed until now, has the single best scene of the whole movie all to himself as he social engineers his way into a building and back out, all to the strains of Journey's Don't Stop Believing, which paces the whole scene so well that I found myself swaying along to the beat. Like all the best stuff in the movie it involves sharp writing and charming acting taking the place of special effects and explosions, and I defy anyone to watch it and not grin all the way through.

As always with action movies, the less time you spend thinking about the plot, the better your head will feel. Max, the villain, is assembling maguffins which will cause immense damage so as to amp the war on terror up to what he thinks is a more acceptable level, a plot which is in popular culture terms so old as to be a decade past its sell by date. I first encountered this notion in a movie in whatever year the almost perfect Long Kiss Goodnight came out and there's been less and less need to revisit it in the years which have gone by since then. Anyway, thanks to Jason Patric's previously unsuspected massive panache levels (seriously, where was this in Speed 2?) the scenes in which the villainous plot is assembled just fly past in a crackle of one-liners and condescending putdowns to his chief enforcer. All you really need to know is that he's a bad bad man and the Losers are going to have to bring him down. Everything else is kind of like the action scenes; it would just get in the way of the good bits.

I have to give a little shout out to the scene setting though. I've been complaining about credits lately and I have mixed feelings about the way in which TV shows like Fringe put up enormous signs in the landscape to tell us what town the latest bit of badness is happening in, but the Losers somehow found a really neat way to flash up locations on the screen; as we move from Bolivia to Dubai to Mumbai and Florida and so on, each location is introduced with the name stamped into the landscape in big block capitals surrounded by a box frame, for all the world like a simplified version of those rubber stamps you get in your passport. Amazingly, it works.

The movie ends with a shameless sequel hook and I hope they go ahead and make it, ideally with even less money so that they have to do even more writing and acting.

No comments: