The Losers, Sylvain White's new spy thriller based on a little-known comic book series (and starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, and The Wire's Idris Elba), opened Friday to mixed reviews. Not a mix of good reviews and bad reviews, mind you, but a slew of reviews that seemed conflicted about enjoying the film at all. For every word of praise, there was a hasty qualifier; for every jeer, a grudging acknowledgment of what the movie does well. In the interest of fairness, The Atlantic Wire presents a rough sliding scale of compliments and insults.
- 'Gets the Job Done' The Losers probably gets the best reception from Chicago Sun-Times critic emeritus Roger Ebert, who calls it "a clean, efficient and entertaining thriller" and affirms, "'The Losers' knows what it's doing and how to do it. Sylvain White doesn't have a lot of credits but he knows how to direct and not trip over his own feet."
- Sort of Refreshing in its Shallowness The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips finds a silver lining in White's all-text-no-subtext approach: "For all its insidious slickness — the deeply saturated, massively bright imagery comes courtesy of cinematographer Scott Kevan — the film is easier to take than, say, 'Kick-Ass' or 'V for Vendetta,' both of which came to the screen saddled with misguided pretentions. No pretentions here."
- 'Bombastic, Blithely Inchoate' Salon's Gene Seymour is far from impressed, but can't bring himself to damn the movie entirely. "'The Losers' struggles to sustain an antic wit that flickers on and off throughout like a weak fluorescent bulb," he sighs. His advice? Don't look for deathless filmmaking. Instead, "consider 'The Losers' a heat-seeking missile aimed directly at your frontal lobes with nothing on its makers' minds except total distraction."
- Best Lede of the Week? The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris offers a thoughtful analysis of the film's eroticization of violence, but he also serves up an unforgettable metaphor in the review's first paragraph: "'The Losers' is another plastic thingamabob that's been hoisted up by one of those carnival claw machines. The amusement it provides is cheap, disposable, and hardly worth the number of quarters you fed into the slot in a frenzy not to go home empty-handed."
- 'Douchebags, And Our Ostensible Heroes' The A.V. Club's Scott Tobias doesn't suffer fools gladly. "There’s nothing wrong with style for its own sake, but The Losers works so strenuously to be cool at every moment that it can only be anything but," he writes. "Pitched to adolescent boys—who are free to enjoy the sanitized violence and sadism under a PG-13 rating—the film takes the form of an extended trailer that never stops selling itself. What’s being sold is anyone’s guess."