With so many iconic comic book properties transforming into big budget drama to capitalize on contemporary society’s interest in broodingly haunted souls finding redemption, it’s fallen to new, original work to fill the void of yesteryear’s bloody romps interested in entertaining sans desire to take themselves too seriously. For TV graphic designer turned director Henry Saine and writer Jason Dodson, such a work was born from the idea of a post-apocalyptic wasteland left by a series of destructive “Corporate Wars” spawning a group of fearless vigilante heroes seeking white-collar criminals’ heads and the cash each is worth. Saine’s storyboards led to an animated television pilot, financial backing earned them a graphic novel and short film, and shortly thereafter voila—Bounty Killer was born.
Visually creative with a darkly comic streak, this imaginative world of gypsy hunters, yellow-tied armies, and ego-heavy mercenaries exists in similar fashion to another wild adventure from a couple years ago called Bunraku. There’s little getting around both films’ outlandish mythologies or their necessity for audiences to suspend disbelief and take things at face value, but the reward for those who can is a B-movie popcorn flick the likes of which we simply don’t see much of anymore. It’s a Mad Max environment of irradiated Badlands, painted-faced cannibals, and Wild West brothels that vilifies corporate greed by turning CEOs and pencil pushers into a militia seeking to rule the world. Add in a sexy killing machine straight out of a 70s Barbarella-esque actioner and heads will surely turn.
Commencing on New America’s top bounty hunters—Drifter (Matthew Marsden) and Mary Death (Christian Pitre)—breaking up what looks like a Fortune 500 celebration of greed, Saine, Dodson, and co-writer Colin Ebeling firmly grab our attention before the credits roll. Heads explode into crimson goo, each frame is drenched in blood as gunfire and knife play unsympathetically mow down extras, and our assassins’ wry smiles and witty banter set up the sexual tension and backstory to come. It’s a concerto of carnage with jetpacks and cigar smoke to get your adrenaline pumping before a brief history lesson unfolds to steady our feet. Basically the Council of Nine issues death warrants and killers fulfill them in a marriage of pure homicidal glee and a marginal sense of public retribution—it’s not exactly rocket science.
The wrinkle then comes from the newest wanted poster containing Drifter’s mug at its center and a monumental bounty of eight million plus underneath it. As Mary Death is the only one good enough to catch him, their unknown history together becomes his saving grace once she holsters her gun. Hoping to travel cross-country through San Dalloosa City, Drip Rock, and Ranching Rosita to plead his case in front of the Council, Drifter sets himself on a course that eventually pits him against every morsel of malicious insanity bred from surviving the end of days. Mary Death may be a friend, gun caddie Jack (Barak Hardley) is definitely a buffoon, and both gypsy leader Mocha Sujata (Eve Jeffers) and corporate yellow-tie director Catherine (Kristanna Loken) have no problem killing anyone in their way.
High style is the name of the game as the gypsies look straight out of a Día de los Muertos parade, guns have golf club gauge nicknames to render Jack’s caddie moniker relevant, and the bounty hunters have become celebrities on every magazine cover for fans to collect autographs. One giant desert chase with dirt bikes and retrofitted cars even goes so far as to rein three motorcycles to the front of a silver RV as though horses. There’s definitely no disguising the fact a graphic designer is at the helm with its attention to detail going above and beyond its budget to keep every inch aligned to the reality the filmmakers have fabricated. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the production and set designers had more fun than the actors.
As for the performances, whatever the cast lacks in the “acting” department is more than made up for in sheer desire to colorfully bring their characters to life. Marsden and Pitre each bring sex appeal to the table whether his rugged cowboy act or her penchant for acrobatic throat slitting courtesy of razor sharp spurs; Hardley’s goofball physical comedy toes the line of too much despite infusing the proceedings with a welcome Regular Joe humanity; and white collar coyote Jimbo (Abraham Benruni) provides some eccentricity while being a target for enemy bullets. Stalwarts like Beverly D’Angelo and Gary Busey round it out with small parts as Eve delivers the antagonistically unpolished brutality opposite Loken’s intellectual scheming in a pressed suit.
The plot is all flashback secrets and lengthy battles with high body counts culminating in a fantastically conceived cubicle massacre played out in the background of the film’s final verbal confrontation of good versus evil. Purely unadulterated fun from start to finish, Bounty Killer quite literally is a live action representation of a comic book’s cells with overwrought character types, humorously violent exchanges, and the usual clichéd twists and turns that make us turn each page. Eye candy galore with cult classic grindhouse sensibilities and Pabst Blue Ribbon adoration, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by letting the aesthetic, sexy heroes, and special effects enveloped you. An obvious labor of love filling a cinematic niche Hollywood has repackaged, Saine and Dodson never quit to finally get exactly what it was they wanted.
Bounty Killer hits theaters in limited release on Friday, September 6th.