By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 10, 2013 at 11:17AM
There needs to be a name for this genre of post-apocalyptic genre mash-ups
with ironic musical cues, retro sexuality, and post-modern self-awareness because, quite frankly, there are just too damn many. Down
the pike comes another one, "Bounty Killer," adapted from an obscure comic book, a market that is
producing more material for film than "Save The Cat." This one, which
combines the aesthetics of westerns, futuristic wasteland actioners and
mock-grindhouse cheesecake, is at least worth recommending due to a filmmaking
team generally going for the jugular. Complete dedication to your idea doesn't
outweigh vision and wit, but if you're ever watching at home, you might
possibly not change the channel, which is apt considering how much this feels like a late night SyFy Channel offering.
The title refers to a phalanx of bounty hunters who took over the wastelands after the Corporate Wars, an event that itself would make for an amusing movie, or maybe a fun mock-Ken Burns documentary. The world's governments have been taken over by corporations (likely) and used their access to weapons and technology to combat each other (okay), destroying civilization as we know it (sure). Amidst the death and destruction, an organization arose to employ hunters that would savagely take the lives of surviving execs for a significant payout. So they're against greed but get paid handsomely? Moving on!
Our main toughie is known as Drifter (Matthew Marsden), and he finds himself trading barbs and bounties with an ex-lover, the go-go boots-clad killer Mary Death (Christian Pitre). Their lovers' quarrel reveals a striking lack of chemistry between the hard-boiled Marsden and the preening Pitre, but at least they look good together. Their kills are elaborate and sloppy, and far more gratuitous than you'd expect for a junky low-budget shoot-'em-up, but, like true action heroes, they frequently shrug off bullets like it were the common cold. Tagging along is problematic, bearded man-child Jack (Barak Hardley), for no other reason than because a "gun jockey" is a thing in the future, and a way to maximize potential kills while avoiding danger is having a chubby talkative nerd follow you around and shove new magazines into your rifle.
Marsden seems like he's too focused on being hard than he is at giving an actual performance, though there's so much "stuff" in this movie that it's impossible to get a bead on his character. Not only is this proudly-silly movie assuming it needs a character like Jack as comic relief, it also features a number of villains performed by the Dollar Store-equivalent of character actors (headed by Kristanna Loken and Gary Busey, yes, that Gary Busey), a crowded double-cross-filled plot and, oh yeah, a murderous gang of gypsies who emerge from nowhere at opportune moments in the story. Marsden, it should be noted, must also compete with the love affair between the camera and Pitre, who is constantly placed in compromising positions, and is frequently depicted not as a person, but as a buxom mannequin. Her self-reliance is consistently meant to take a backseat to the fact that she is repeatedly being oogled by the camera, and her actions are seen by other characters as irrational and untrustworthy. Marsden's character is the lead, but the picture really wants to be about her.
The shootouts are mostly functional; some rely on excessively chintzy special effects, others on dopey futuristic contrivances like jetpacks. One such action sequence is an open-desert chase sequence that recalls the delightful subversiveness of South Korean lark "The Good, The Bad And The Weird." The sequence plays out with multiple factions at each others' throats while the camera whips around cars, motorcycles and a furious RV. This scene, easily the highlight of the film, is punctuated by an axe vivisecting the heads of two characters simultaneously. It's the sort of "Looney Tunes"-spirit that makes you forget this is the type of movie post-porn Sasha Grey would star in.
Because the twists of the story (involving the bloodlust of a gypsy leader played by rapper Eve, yes, that Eve) are ultimately uninvolving, the picture tries to add weight by making predictable revelations about the former lives of the Drifter and Mary Death, showing how both are using the Bounty Killer identities to avoid dealing with their own issues, while also failing to make a salient point about why the corporations destroy each other, and why, ultimately, the middle and lower classes are powerless to stop them. The lack of political dimension wouldn't be a problem if there weren't touches like making Pabst Blue Ribbon the most valuable currency of the wastelands: ultimately, it's a pose, a way to flatter hipsters and liberals in a way that accidentally lionizes the capitalists not only for having the power to start an apocalypse, but also to game the system immediately afterwards. And when the people finally can't put society back together again (while also isolating the ethnically diverse gypsies), they have to put their faith in one-man armies. It's a film that plays equally to both sides of the political spectrum, and it feels like pandering either way. [C-]