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Originally published Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'The Losers': Cast chemistry saves comic-book caper

"The Losers," a new comic-book action franchise, lacks originality but compensates with a well-chosen cast of rising stars and a deliciously villainous role for Jason Patric.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'The Losers,' with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Jason Patric, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Oscar Jaenada, Columbus Short. Directed by Sylvain White, from a screenplay by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, based on the comic books by Andy Diggle. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, a scene of sensuality and violence. Several theaters.

There isn't a shred of originality in "The Losers," so don't expect anything fresh from this new comic-book franchise. From its unsurprising twists to its end-credit high jinks, every ingredient has Hollywood's market-tested stamp of approval, including a screenplay that could've been written by a ComiCon focus group.

So what makes this generic rehash a treat for action fans? One word: casting. Proving that ensemble chemistry can make or break a franchise, "The Losers" redeems itself with comedic camaraderie delivered by a well-chosen batch of rising stars.

The Losers are an elite Special Forces unit, running covert ops for the CIA. Their latest search-and-destroy mission takes them to Bolivia, where their rescue chopper is shot down (by tragic happenstance) with 25 innocent children aboard.

Realizing they've been double-crossed and are presumed dead, The Losers go deep undercover to find the source of their betrayal.

Team leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, from "Watchmen") is a crack strategist; tech whiz Jensen (Chris Evans, from "The Fantastic Four") can hack into anything; Roque (Idris Elba, from HBO's "The Wire") is a knife-wielding explosives expert; Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is a sniper par excellence; and Pooch (Columbus Short) is a heavy-weapons specialist who can drive or fly just about anything with a motor.

Aided by a sleek operative named Aisha (played by "Star Trek" and "Avatar" star Zoe Saldana) with her own hidden agenda, The Losers return to the U.S. to find Max (Jason Patric), the shadowy government figure who botched his chance to kill them and is plotting a terrorist attack using a weapon capable of making entire land masses implode in a sonic swirl of destruction.

Predictable mayhem ensues, and "The Losers" breezes along with snappy repartee and the surprisingly delicious villainy of Patric, who's clearly enjoying one of the best roles of his career.

Director Sylvain White ("Stomp the Yard") adds flair to the material, but not enough to make you forget the sanitized PG-13 murder of innocent kids. Remove the humor, and the globe-trotting "Losers" plays like an episode of "24" that's been retrofitted for the "Transporter" franchise.

Weekend box office will surely result in a sequel we don't really need.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

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