It would be nice to say that Henry Saine’s happy-go-lucky Mad Max homage is all good fun with a political edge. After all, this is a movie where futuristic mercenaries with killer outfits get paid stacks of cash to track down white-collar criminals. But instead of working as machine-gun agitprop, Bounty Killer ends up being mostly about the machine guns. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The more interesting part of the story gets done away with in a quick flashback. Corporate rivalries launched wars that ended civilization. Humanity is just ragged bands of survivors who scratch out a living in the desert (in movies, the post-apocalypse never has trees), trying to steer clear of rampaging tribes of white face-painted cannibals. Fortunately, the collapse of civilization apparently left people with a near-endless supply of gas for their souped-up muscle cars and ammunition for all their weaponry. The only thing that’s in short supply is apparently canned beer; a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon is worth its weight in gold.
Matthew Marsden brings a confidently wisecracking, vaguely Nathan Fillion glint to his role as the future’s best bounty killer, who actually goes by the name Drifter. A carefully unshaven rogue, Drifter competes in a quipping way for corporate scalps with his former lady love, Mary Death (Christian Pitre, passably arch). She’s the popular favorite, what with her high-heeled boots and cool branding; she even has her likeness inscribed on her grenades. Trying to outdo each other, they make for a tough team. Those spurs on Mary Death’s boots come in handy for high-kicking throat-slashing and Drifter’s new gun caddie (one of the script’s nicer touches) is generally able to flip him a fresh clip or new gun when needed. The two of them rack up a body count in the dozens before the film even really gets going. Once it does, after Mary Death discovers that a bounty has been placed on Drifter, the action gets cranked up to war-movie velocity.
Although the film splashes generous amounts of blood and viscera around, director and co-writer Henry Saine smartly focuses on the comedy whenever possible. There’s no way to get around the tongue-in-cheekness of it all, with details like a cub reporter from Wasteland News or lines like “days like today really make you miss that ozone layer.” In the main, this plays quite well, with less of the mugging such trying-too-hard efforts usually involve. The filmmakers also do clever work with an obviously limited budget; the effects are generally unimpressive but the cinematography is surprisingly glossy.
But a keen sense of comedy and enough squibs to supply a remake of The Wild Bunch can only get you so far. By stretching as thin a concept as this out to feature length, Saine ends up with a film that’s probably too in-jokey enough to appeal to the action crowd and not clever enough to appease fans of all things meta. There’s just enough of a tease here about corporate villainy to make one wish they had gone further with that idea. Bounty Killer has energy to spare, it just ends up wasting most of it on more of the same.
It’s the kind of movie where a character cracks open a beer, saying “Now I can die a happy man” right before getting plugged by a sniper. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.