I'm not exactly sure why the over-the-top carnage in Kick-Ass doesn't offend, and why in The Losers - likewise an adaptation of a comic book - it does. (And after it offends, it numbs.)
Certainly the difference has something to do with the writing, and the wit, behind all the firefights and slo-mo mayhem. In the case of The Losers, the script is boilerplate, the wit pretty much witless.
Starring a smug squad of crack special forces operatives, The Losers opens in the jungles of Bolivia, where team leader Clay (Watchmen's swaggering superdude, Jeffrey Dean Morgan), demolitions expert Roque (The Wire's Idris Elba), computer whiz Jensen (Fantastic Four's Chris Evans), and a couple of other guys with barely a line between them (Columbus Short and Oscar Jaenada) are arranging to level a drug lord's compound - and the drug lord with it.
But then a school bus full of little kids rolls up (Hey, parents! Tomorrow there's a field trip to meet the country's biggest coke dealer!), and Clay and company try to call off the mission.
HQ doesn't want to hear about it. The plane, and the payload, are on the way. And so the renegade quintet take it upon themselves to rescue the children before the air strike. Things don't go according to plan, however, and in the fiery and exploitatively tragic aftermath Clay, Roque, and the rest are presumed dead, reduced to dog tags and ash.
The fact that they're lying low in a seedy town (cockfights, hookers) is known only by the eyebrow-pierced, CIA-connected Aisha (Zoe Saldana), who promises to get the gang back into the States if they help her take out an evil arms dealer bent on world domination. This fellow, Max, is played by just about the last actor you'd go looking to cast as an evil arms dealer bent on world domination: the brooding Jason Patric. Comic villainy - nay, comedy, period - is not this man's forte.
Considerably less spiritual but no less sinewy than she was as Neytiri, the Na'vi princess of Avatar, Saldana's Aisha picks up Clay in a bar and then goes back to his hotel room, where a kickboxing, head-butting, face-punching frenzy ensues. It's a new kind of seduction scene, I guess, pointless but kinetic.
Director Sylvain White shows himself adept at the action stuff, using whooshing cutaways and a busy stunt crew as he orchestrates the shoulder-launched missile strikes and jokey annihilations. (Watch Patric gun down his pretty assistant when she bumbles the sunbrella she's holding over his head. Har-har.)
The movie's pop-irony prize goes to the scene with Evans' character sneaking into Max's high-security offices to download a computer file and using Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " as his personal theme song.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.