starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoë Saldana, Chris Evans, Jason Patric
screenplay by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, based on the comic book series by Andy Diggle and Jock
directed by Sylvain White
THE BACK-UP PLAN
starring Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Loughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Linda Lavin
screenplay by Kate Angelo
directed by Alan Poul
by Ian Pugh We've got a long summer ahead of us, full of remakes and spoofs straight out of the '80s, and The Losers celebrates its imminent arrival by taking a dump on the action flicks of the era. Blinkered hostility is as much a mood-killer as uncritical nostalgia, and The Losers never misses an opportunity to remind you that its characters have one-note personalities defined by terse nicknames. The film begins, as it must, in the Bolivian jungle, where the titular team of U.S. soldiers (led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is forced to go underground after an errant missile--intended for them--kills twenty-five Bolivian children they'd just saved from an evil drug lord. At first glance, that opening raid points to a toned-down Predator reference, but it's really just a paint-by-numbers scenario meant to demonstrate how pretty much everything from that decade is stilted, corny, and hopelessly dated. So it goes for the rest of the film--how else to explain a brief chase sequence set to "Don't Stop Believin'"? It's not merely junk, it's self-conscious, wilfully-misinterpretive junk.
The Losers adapts a comic book from DC's "extreme" arm Vertigo, but it also knows you've seen about a hundred Movies Like This and intends to deliver the goods with a big fat wink at the audience. Our heroes spend most of the picture chasing after the man who set them up, CIA mastermind Max (Jason Patric), who indulges in a special brand of sarcasm that lets everyone know he is very, very evil. Your villain is self-aware, isn't that great? And hey, you like girls and action, right? How about the Losers' fair-weather friend Aisha (Zoë Saldana), who gets to perform a shoot-out in her skivvies? Even Max's plan to create a New World Order is a parodic reversal of every other evil plot you've seen in a Movie Like This: he's developing a nuclear device that will implode everything within a such-and-such mile radius. It's ironic, all right, and it bends over backwards to make sure you know it--but does the Schwarzenegger/Stallone cycle warrant that irony anymore? What about the fact that Predator's opening sequence already satirizes the machismo that throws its mercenaries into a shooting gallery? The Losers differs from Kevin Smith's much-worse Cop Out in the sense that it stands apart from its object of ridicule, but it still begs the question: what's the point?
The filmmakers skirt these issues by pushing the antics into gradually more ridiculous territory. The Losers visit all sorts of far-flung locales in their quest for Max, but the picture's only real exoticism is in the ever-expanding variety of explosions and gunfire involved. Its most active moments are bizarre fireworks displays--and it's damn proud of that, finally ending (spoiler alert) with a man thrown from an exploding motorcycle and into an airplane engine. At this moment, you might think of The Losers as an attempt to duplicate the genre insanity of Crank (witness the familiar gag in which a protagonist "shoots" his assailants with his pointed index finger), but just because it knows the score doesn't mean it actually has any fun with the idea. Soon the spitballs aimed at the movies of yesteryear feel less like strict parody and more like a declaration of war. Too jokey to be taken seriously but too earnest to be genuinely satirical, the whole film amounts to a game of cinematic escalation waged against its '80s counterparts. In other words, The Losers is kidding on the square, mocking muscleheaded action flicks for their stupidity while longing to outdo them...and snag the same audience.
The Back-up Plan, on the other hand, doesn't take enough of a critical stance to distinguish itself from a hundred other romantic comedies. Desperate to start a family, Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) receives an artificial insemination on the same day she meets Mr. Right, Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), and so begins a series of hilarious misunderstandings about relationships and motherhood--along with a series of pratfalls that are all the more uproarious because Zoe's pregnant! Lopez and O'Loughlin demonstrate an astounding ability to speak in the exact same tone of voice no matter what emotion they're trying to convey, the better to tell the Normals apart from the Crazies. And let me tell you something, they are surrounded by crazy. Single mothers who perform water births? Old people who talk about sex? Where do they come up with this stuff? Good thing we've got movies like The Back-up Plan to remind us there's a right way and a wrong way to do things in a romcom. Hell, who needs original jokes, engaging leads, or romantic chemistry when you've got dog reaction shots? Originally published: April 23, 2010.