Filmmakers’ approach to comic book material over the course of the last decade has moved into some pretty serious territory. Christopher Nolan has forgotten that Batman ever had a levity knob, and even lighthearted and lightweight entertainments like The Avengers tend to take their own myth very seriously. This approach has been greeted with open arms by many comic book fans, who have always taken the superhero myth of men in tights just as seriously as filmmakers are just beginning to.
I mention all this to directly indicate my preferred tone in comic book movies; exciting, but never losing sight of the silly stuff. It also may be why I may find myself defending Henry Saine’s energetic low-budget sci-fi action schlock Bounty Killer, now on Blu-ray.
Bounty Killer, based on an off-the-grid comic book by Saine and Jason Dodson and expanded from a short film made in 2011, is an absurd and derivative DTV B-movie with little aspiration other than to be merely cool and distracting. The lead characters are dull, the story is predictable, and the social commentary is so up-front, it can hardly even count as commentary. But none of that really matters, as those deficiencies are indeed the central features of the DTV sci-fi action genre. What matters in judging a movie like this are little things like tone and pacing and maybe a few interesting new ideas.
I’m relieved to report that the tone is light and a little goofy, and seems to have an intentionally humorous edge. The filmmakers may have been openly ripping off movies like Mad Max, but their glee in doing so was a little too evident to ignore and not to feel. Bounty Killer doesn’t quite have the manic edge of legit cult movies like the totally obscure The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell, or, better yet, Six-String Samurai, but it at least bothers to have a sense of humor, a variety of new visuals, and just enough variation on the tired genre material to make it interesting.
In the year 2042, the world has been reduced to endless deserts and sandstorms. A few pockets of lush comfort exist, but they are ruled by the 1%, who intentionally caused the economic collapse of the world so that they may hoard all the money for themselves. White-collar criminals, then, are now high-priced targets for the stultifyingly named Bounty Killers, a class of high-powered desert-bound vigilante badasses, who have taken to giving themselves cool outfits and gimmicky weapons. The main character is a bland fellow named (sigh) Drifter (Matthew Marsden), and the other main character is an equally bland fetish babe named Mary Death (Christian Pitre). The two of them are constantly competing for the number of CEO scalps they can turn into cash.
An interesting wrinkle: Since these bounty hunters… I mean Bounty Killers… use so many guns and bullets, they require caddies to wrangle their weapons on the battlefield. The film’s aspiring caddy is Jack (Barak Hardley), a Bruce Vilanche-looking nerd who ends up getting to do some pretty cool stuff. Like driving a bus driven by living motorcycles. It’s a neat idea in an otherwise usual flick. There is also a fantastic scene to open the film’s climax wherein the villainess (Kristanna Loken) gives her evil speech in a soundproof room, while her minions are unknowingly being killed behind her. That’s a fun scene.
The story is pretty predictable, including the big reveals. Nothing is surprising. But then, in a movie like this, such ambition might harm the end result; sometimes it’s okay to play it safe. Bounty Killers is clearly the result of decades of watching movies like The Road Warrior, and has over-enthused fanboy ardor practically dripping off of it. In many ways – not least of which was the central idea – the film is staggeringly banal.
The banality, though, is nearly offset by the overwhelming charm and filmmaking acumen. The filmmakers clearly have the beginnings of some chops, and can perhaps work their enthusiasm into something more sophisticated in the near future. But before the CEOs take over.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.