Director: Peter Howitt
Cast: Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins, Dean S. Jagger, Stephanie Bennett, Patrick Gilmore
MPAA Rating: (for violence and some language)
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 2/2/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 1, 2018
The futuristic hellscape of Scorched Earth looks and operates a lot like the Old West. That's the extent of thought put into this story, about a bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic world where air and water are precious commodities. One would think you'd have to be intelligent and resourceful to survive in such a place, where the air and water are polluted after a global, climate change-based catastrophe that killed off the majority of the population. The characters here, though, look the concept of survival of the fittest in the eye and trip over their own two feet.
Here, we have a heroine, the bounty hunter called Gage (Gina Carano), who decides that the best course of action to take down a ruthless gang leader is to disguise herself as a different, ruthless gang leader. Her sure-not-to-fail-in-any-way disguise is simply putting on the hat and scarf of the other criminal. She looks nothing like the outlaw, whom she tracks down and kills in the movie's opening scenes. The thinking, though, is that nobody in the other bounty's gang knows what the now-deceased criminal looks like. Plus, everyone in this new frontier world is so generally dirty that it's probably easy to mistake one person for another.
Nonetheless, it's a gamble and one that mostly pays off because Thomas Jackson (Ryan Robbins), her new target, is dumber than the plan. He has established a town for his fellow outlaws—a place where they can take sanctuary from the law chasing them.
This, of course, means that Gage's plan is even dumber than first appearances, because surely someone there will have known or seen the outlaw whose hat and scarf she's wearing. It happens eventually, of course, and Gage handles the situation without a lick of subtlety. Thankfully for her, Jackson might be the least paranoid, least curious, and most trusting outlaw in this world. He buys her story without question, even though everyone around him is convinced that Gage isn't what she appears to be.
It's annoying to have to point out these things, because there's so much more the screenplay by Kevin Leeson and Bobby Mort could be doing with this world. They've created a somewhat unique place, in which humanity's reckless sins of the past have caught up to the survivors, who scavenge for survival under a sickly yellow sky. Fossil fuel-burning vehicles are outlawed, since they were a major component of the cataclysmic climate event in the mid-21st century that caused this wasteland (In retrospect, though, this seems rather pointless, since the damage already has been done). Bounty hunters are necessary to bring the owners of gas-guzzlers to justice. The economy is based on silver, which now only has value because it can be used for the filtration of air and water.
Instead of exploring this world, though, the movie gives us the dumb plan and the dumber characters. Most of the plot involves Gage attempting to figure out what Jackson is up to while trying to maintain the charade of her weak disguise.
Gage herself is a fairly inconsistent character—a heartless killer who leaves an innocent man to die on one mission, shoots her own colleague in the head while trying to get into Jackson's good graces, but shows a great deal of sympathy for Melena (Stephanie Bennett), a captive in Jackson's town, despite the danger of Gage's situation. There's some back story—involving the bounty hunter's dead sister—to explain the sudden, targeted change of heart (as well as to give Gage a personal motivation for wanting to take down Jackson). Leeson and Mort seem to think that, if we buy into the half-hearted disguise, we can accept a protagonist with an uncertain moral compass and a potentially fatal onset of kindness.
It's quite the stretch, and Carano doesn't sell it in the slightest. She's woefully miscast here, which is a shame, since Carano has what it takes to be an action star. Her performance here, though, depends on much more than fighting and shooting, and for all of her physical prowess and natural charisma, Carano isn't convincing here.
Obviously, all of this leads to a big, final confrontation—both because the story is essentially a Western and because the movie runs out of ideas once its world has been introduced. It's dull and, of course, requires that, in addition to being dim, Jackson and his men are terrible shots (Meanwhile, thanks to a noticeably terrible edit, Gage apparently has pistols that magically transform into a shotgun). Scorched Earth has to end like this, if only to stay consistent with its constant slide from promise to monotonous routine.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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