The war in Vietnam is raging, and such scenes as American soldiers relaxing and minding their own business only to be ambushed by the Viet Cong are all too common and involve casualties on both sides, although the Americans are not doing as well as they would have liked. In fact, the C.I.A. have recruited some unlikely troops in their battle against the Communists, in this case a group of five Hell's Angels led by Link (William Smith), who gives his new boss, Captain Jackson (Bernie Hamilton) his assurances that his boys will keep in line. Why are they here? To recapture a U.S. government official who has gone behind enemy lines to negotiate with Red China...
The biker movie was allied to a few different genres in its time of popularity, the height of which was the early seventies, but marrying the hog-riding ne'erdowells with war stories, especially a war that was contemporary, was a twist that for some reason was not imitated too often. Of course, what The Losers was truly inspired by was The Dirty Dozen and it was simply easy to exploit the then-current Vietnam War for its setting, but this owed more to the type of movie which had denim and leather clad motorcyclists zooming around California highways and getting up to selected debaucheries than it did to the World War Two men on a mission yarn.
The fact that they chose the conflict they did for their bikers to get caught up in is interesting, and there does appear to be a little more to this than simply utilising it for the sake of a good story. Although the title characters are backing the U.S.A., the hippy viewpoint that the whole thing was a terrible waste of life is wholeheartedly embraced by screenwriter-actor Alan Caillou by the grand finale. The hippy approach even extends to the middle section, where we are treated to the love theme from The Losers, a Joan Baez-soundalike that heralds one of the bikers, Duke, (Adam Roarke) going off to gaze longingly into the eyes of his Vietnamese girlfriend for a spell.
In its rough, tough and manly manner, this all gets very sentimental, as if Caillou shed a few tears for the fallen in the process of conjuring up the screenplay. Sure, there may be barroom brawls and violent death lurking around every corner, but that doesn't mean we should be unfeeling automatons, goddammit! But actually, it's more likely than getting caught up in the characters' emotional lives, you'll be checking your watch and wondering when the mayhem is about to start. And so it is, about an hour in, that director-actor Jack Starrett evidently said, "Enough of this mush!" and the wall to wall action the viewer has been anticipating finally gets underway.
The most famous sequence is the one which was seen in another film far more than it was seen in its original incarnation. That film was Pulp Fiction, and the sequence is where the bikers take to their customised vehicles which have been decked out with machine guns and in one case, a rocket launcher of sorts, and let rip on the Vietnamese village that is hiding the American diplomat (played by Starrett). If you're not interested in messages, then it's the highlight of the movie, with bullets flying and explosions going off every few seconds, all mixed in with motorbikes careering around, but the film feels the need to live up to its title and soon the bikers are being picked off one by one. It turns out the diplomat is less than pleased to see his saviours, and the whole "American is wasting its time and precious young lives in this war" theme is hammered into the ground. Really this wants to have it both ways, but has an undeniably compelling premise that keeps you watching in spite of (or perhaps because of) its dated drawbacks. Music by Stu Phillips.