Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Scorched Earth: Gina Carano, Bounty Hunter

In the post-apocalyptic future, the West will be Old again. Bounty-hunter Attica Gage rides out of New Montana, tracking down outlaws for money and silver, the key ingredient for life-preserving air filters. Gage goes undercover in Elijah Jackson’s decency-defying enclave of outlaws for the sake of bounties, but she will stay to extract some old school vengeance in Peter Howitt’s Scorched Earth (trailer here), which releases in select theaters and on iTunes this Friday.

In the future, water and silver are the most precious commodities on Earth, whereas oil is not in such demand anymore ever since motor vehicles were banned to prevent any further warming emissions. There are still idiots driving around out there, like the first loser-bounty we see Gage collar. Her second will be much tougher prey. Initially, she is disappointed she had to kill the notorious Chavo, resulting in an automatic halving of the bounty, but since they are roughly the same build, it allows her to “safely” assume the outlaw’s identity to infiltrate Jackson’s bandit town. Okay, so it really isn’t such a safe scheme. Her mentor, Doc, a former bounty hunter slowed by age and injury, is dead set against, but she goes in anyway.

Scorched Earth serves up a fair amount of B-movie fun, but it never fully capitalizes on Gina Carano’s muay thai and mixed martial arts chops. Currently, she is perched somewhere between an “A” and “B” list action star, because she has the skills and the presence, but she has yet to truly score a breakout role. This isn’t it either, but it is still amusing to see her riffing on Spaghetti Western tropes (she even drags a coffin behind her horse during the opening sequences).

Weirdly, Carano’s best fight scene comes early on, when she faces off against Luvia Petersen’s Chavo. Frankly, as villains go, Jackson and his chief henchman Leer are pretty blah (whereas Chavo had some flair). However, one of the most appealing aspects of the film is the platonic teacher-protégé relationship shared by Gage and Doc. John Hannah (from Four Weddings and a Funeral) is drily sardonic and pleasantly understated as the gun-slinging sawbones (“doctor” would be too strong a word for him).

Howitt previously directed Hannah in Sliding Doors, the re-conception of Kieslowski’s Blind Chance, featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, which in terms of time and tone seems so long ago and so far away from Scorched. However, we have to give him credit for staging a nifty climatic shootout.

For Carano fans and connoisseurs of day-and-date action movie releases, Scorched Earth is likely to become a familiar guilty pleasure. It is far from transcendent, but it delivers what it promises and should wear well over time. Recommended as a VOD indulgence, Scorched Earth hits theaters and iTunes this Friday (2/2).