Review Date: March 19, 2006
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 2/28/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Considering that it was the longest shooting war in America’s history, it’s rather surprising to learn just how few movies about the Vietnam War were made in the U.S. during this country’s involvement. Though genre movies like Deathdream
may have used it as a backdrop, there were very few films that focused on depicting the war itself, with John Wayne’s mediocre The Green Berets
(1968) being the only one of that small group that is even remembered today. Not only is this is in stark contrast to the scores of films that came out during World War II showing the battles as they were happening overseas, but even the Korean War saw more domestically produced combat films. Though this is no forum to go into the complex reasons for this being so, it is interesting to note the existence of The Losers
as one of those films. At a point in time where the major players in the film industry seemed disinterested in producing anything involving the war (somewhat like today, where the only dramatized depictions of Iraq seem to come from TV shows like JAG
and Over There
), a young director by the name of Jack Starrett somehow was able to pull together his own Vietnam movie on a limited budget. Without further ado, let’s find out if The Losers
really is a loser or not...
It’s 1970 and the war in Southeast Asia rages on, seemingly without end. A CIA operative named Chet Davis has been captured by the Viet Cong and spirited across the Cambodian border to a fortified village filled with Red Chinese troops. Due to Cambodia’s neutrality the U.S. military cannot send in any forces to rescue him. As a solution, the battle weary Major Thomas (Dan Kemp
) calls upon his brother Link (William Smith
) and his motorcycle gang the Devil’s Advocates, consisting of Duke (Adam Roarke
), Limpy (Paul Koslo
), Dirty Denny (Houston Savage
) and Speed (Eugene Cornelius
). The bikers aren’t exactly patriots – Denny, Link and Duke are all disgruntled combat veterans, and Link was personally acquainted with the missing CIA operative and hated his guts – but for enough money they have agreed to take on the rescue mission. They are assigned to the care Captain Jackson (Bernie Hamilton
). But can this gang of ruffians, more interested in drinking, drugs and sex, really be a match for the Red Chinese hordes that await them just over the border?
As a war movie, the film doesn’t work very well. Many war pictures, big and small, have their plots based around a battle of some kind. Sometimes these are real historical events, or sometimes they are fictional engagements invented by the screenwriter. But, either way, the standard formula for plotting a film of that type is to have some sort of dramatic build-up in anticipation of the events that will climax the movie. The Longest Day
(1962) shows the anxiety and preparation in the days and hours leading up to the D-Day invasion. Tora! Tora! Tora!
(1970) details how diplomacy failed to solve the disagreements between Japan and the United States, how the Japanese planned their attack on Pearl Harbor and how American incompetence led to the disastrous defeat there. Sands of Iwo Jima
(1949) tells the story of a squad of Marines as they bloody themselves fighting through the Pacific before they arrive at Iwo Jima, their toughest battle. Or, if we want to talk about movies that are closer to The Losers
in terms of budget and talent involved, we can look at Missing In Action
(1984), where much of the movie is spent showing Chuck Norris putting together the raid to rescue the last American POWs in Vietnam.
In contrast, The Losers
doesn’t have a successful build-up to the battle. Instead, it just meanders. The gang arrives in Vietnam and is informed of their mission. They spend a little bit of time modifying their bikes for combat, but mostly they just find ways to eat up screen time. Denny and Speed make trouble at a local bar, causing the MPs to show up and haul them to the slammer. Duke seeks out the Vietnamese girl he loved and had to leave behind when his tour of duty ended. Limpy falls in love with another Vietnamese girl who, in a rather contrived plot twist, is revealed to have been a former lover of Captain Jackson and has given birth to his child. There’s no sense of urgency to anything as all this goes on, and it’s obvious that all this junk ended up in the script because there was not enough actual plot to fill the movie up. I’ve written almost eighty reviews for HorrorDVDs.com, and this is the only time that I can ever recall devoting so little space to a plot summary.
Surprisingly, the tone of the film is not particularly disenchanted, or at least not until its last act, when Chet Davis turns out to be a major son of a bitch. Up until that point there is not a lot of the cynicism one might normally associate with a production of this type. Three out of the five bikers turn out to be decent human beings, and the military characters are shown as basically honorable men. Apparently director Jack Starrett was an anti-establishment type who was trying to make an anti-war film, though that’s not always evident. What is evident is that Starrett, despite having some flair with the action scenes, did not know how to handle the rest of the movie. Before the big fight the main reason the film even stays together is because of the surprisingly good performances of players like William Smith and Adam Roarke.
At the time the script was written and production was commencing (which was 1969, according to the commentary), the producers presumably knew they had a very bankable concept. Realistically speaking, the premise of the movie is ludicrous, even though it is based upon the reality of Cambodia’s neutrality at the time and the inability for the United States to violate that neutrality with ground forces. However, as a concept for an exploitation movie it is almost a stroke of genius, an excellent idea for a mixing of genres. Unfortunately, the problem with making films about current events is that they have a tendency to become outdated quickly. In the case of The Losers
, events caught up with the plot before the movie even premiered in August of 1970. On April 29 of that year Cambodia’s neutrality effectively ended when thousands of South Vietnamese troops stormed across its border in an attempt to interdict and destroy Communist routes of reinforcement and supply. On May 1 the United States joined the operation as well (the incursion, which lasted until mid-summer, was moderately successful, but the political fallout resulted in the war becoming even more controversial with the American public, especially after protesters denouncing the campaign at Kent State were killed by the Ohio National Guard). The producers had, in the end, only outsmarted themselves.
is a film that gets a lukewarm recommendation. It isn’t terrible by any means. The acting, as previously said, isn’t bad at all, and there’s some decent action scenes wrapped around an exploitable concept. The problem with the film is the way it handles that concept – it’s doesn’t live up to its promise and potential, even as an exploitation film.
is presented letterboxed at 1.78:1 (not 1.85:1, as the packaging indicates) and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. Overall it looks exceptionally good. There is little in the way of damage other than some very minor speckling and the odd scratch or blemish now and again. The image is impressively sharp and detailed and colors are adequately reproduced for the most part, though these two factors are somewhat marred by the film’s inconsistent camera work, which ranges between polished and grungy-looking, often within the same scene. The film’s deep jungle scenes tend to fare the worst in this respect.
The Dolby 2.0 Mono soundtracks is actually well above average, and aside from some very minor crackling audible in one or two of the film’s quiet moments, is almost completely devoid of any sort of background noise or distortion. Dialogue is clearly reproduced and the explosions, gunshots and other assorted combat noises are presented with surprising power and fidelity.
Optional English subtitles are included.
The only extra here of any significance is a commentary track with actors William Smith and Paul Koslo, and moderated by Dark Sky employee Todd Wieneke. Koslo seems to remember the most about the production, though their back and forth discussion seems to end up jogging Smith’s memory a bit. The commentary centers around their experiences shooting on location in the Philippines and the way in which locals were utilized. Their most humorous recollection is how Houston Savage insulted the vice president of the Philippines (with the country hardly being a liberal democracy at the time) and was almost dragged out into the street and executed. There are some noticeable quiet gaps but Wieneke keeps the conversation rolling most of the time.
The other extras are much more minor. There are theatrical trailers for it and Werewolves on Wheels
, two radio spots and a short still gallery of lobby cards and poster art.
is a bit of a disappointment, but not a complete waste of time. It may very well be worth a rental for viewers who are fans of the biker genre. For those who are interested in a purchase, there is nothing wrong with the DVD itself, which features a well above average transfer and a decent commentary track to sweeten the deal. Nonetheless, the movie itself is the most important thing, and it is still lacking.
Movie – C
Image Quality – B+
Sound – B
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 35 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- English subtitles
- Commentary track with William Smith and Paul Koslo
- Still gallery
- Radio spots
- Theatrical trailers