As I won this film in a contest (thanks to Will at Silver Emulsion), it might be a little gauche to review it. Gift horses and mouths, after all. But I’m hardly going to watch a movie and not say what I think about it, so before 2013 comes to a close, here are my thoughts on director Henry Saine’s Bounty Killer.
As the title implies, it’s a violent film — in fact, it has a distinct “Grindhouse” movie aesthetic to it. The DVD cover (the film was released direct to video this past September) compares it to Mad Max and Kill Bill, and while those films may be a bit more memorable than this one, there’s little doubt that the description is accurate as far as what Bounty Killer is trying to emulate. The movie is apparently based on a comic book from Kickstart Comics; I am unfamiliar with either the book or the company, but the graphic novel origin is also readily apparent, as transitions from one location to the next often involve an interlude with comic-like drawings.
Nobody ever makes a post-apocalyptic family comedy.
Like Mad Max, Bounty Killer is set a few decades into the future, after everything has gone to Hell in a handbasket. Corporations seized power from the governments of the world, then went to war with each other, ravaging everything. When the dust settled, civilization was in shambles, and a new organization — the “Council of 9” — tried to reestablish order, starting with declaring all the corporate heads war criminals. Bounty killers hire out to track down the white collar criminals and execute them for their deeds. The ones in the film do this in a number of inventive and bloody ways, though naturally firearms are the weapon of choice.
The film has a sense of style, and it definitely has enough blood to satisfy any grindhouse fan. However, this style doesn’t stand out much in the field; even a day later, the impressions from the film are starting to fade from my memory. It’s a film that operates on the “rule of cool” — there are a great many points where one just has to shrug and give logic a miss — but although it’s cool enough to be entertaining, it’s not cool enough to memorable.
This may be due to the main characters, a pair of bounty killers called Drifter and Mary Death. They are played by Matthew Marsden and Christian Pitre, in what appears to be the first leading role for either actor. The actors do well enough with their roles, but there’s not a lot of meat to the characters. Pitre has the more difficult job, as the film attempts to depict her as the more interesting character — even though the plot is centered around Drifter being accused of white collar crime. Mary Death has her own backstory, but it’s not a terribly interesting or original one, her personality is essentially “temperamental psycho”, and her dialogue has a fair number of clunker lines. Drifter, meanwhile, is a standard almost-lone hero type; while there are interesting elements to his story, they’re mostly presented as reveals and twists along the way. It’s a case where the film may have been better had they been established up front instead, allowing some characterization to be built around them. As it is, when they come to light, there isn’t much time to use them to make Drifter’s personality more interesting. As far as the main characters are concerned, the film feels a bit like it’s the first chapter of a story, where we get to know the characters. But the film ends before we really care about them. The most dynamic character of the bunch is “gun caddy” Jack (Barak Hardley), who ironically has the least character development of the main trio. He’s simply given more of a personality to begin with.
There are a fair number of supporting characters as well, and it’s interesting to see some of the actors and actresses who took roles in this film. They aren’t all household names, but several are recognizable, from Kristanna Loken (the T-X from Terminator 3) as a corporate villain to character actor Abraham Benrubi as a human trafficker. Gary Busey plays another corporate villain, while Kevin McNally (Pirates of the Caribbean) pays out bounties and Beverly D’Angelo (Vacation) runs a brothel. It makes for a fun game of “Hey, who’s that?”, but few of them have roles substantial enough to be of real interest.
That lack of substance is really the film’s biggest problem. Even a popcorn flick needs to have a little bit of intelligence to it, and there isn’t much of that here. The plot is threadbare, mostly serving to get the protagonists from one shootout to the next. The dialogue is generally trite, as creative as a well-worn cliche, but lacking the linguistic flair that leads to cliches hanging around. All Bounty Killer really has to offer is violent spectacle, and while it’s good enough at that to be watchable for 90 minutes if nothing else is available, there are better options out there which are more likely to be remembered a week after watching.