If you’re in the mood for a direct-to-video post-apocalyptic bounty hunter saga starring a former female MMA champ and helmed by the director of Sliding Doors, and I know there are some of you out there, Scorched Earth is 100% your shit. For the rest of you, it may not have a place on your must-watch list. Unless you fall into that first category, the Gina Carano-starring, Peter Howitt-directed sci-fi actioner probably isn’t for you. Then again, I’m squarely in that camp, so, hell yeah.
Chief among the things I enjoy about Scorched Earth are the early, obvious, and frequent nods to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti western classic, Django. One of the very first things we see on screen is Muay Thai specialist Carano’s character, the bounty hunter Atticus Gage, dragging a coffin along behind her horse, echoing Franco Nero from the aforementioned film. However, instead of a machine gun (sorry for spoiling a five-decade old film), Gage’s coffin contains a very-much-alive stooley who possesses vital information she desires to secure her next payday.
Kevin Leeson and Bobby Mort’s script doesn’t even try to blaze any new trails. There’s been some ill-defined environmental catastrophe that destroyed civilization and led the survivors to revert back to a frontier-style existence. Gage, who of course has a traumatic past, tracks down criminals, first for a price, then for something more meaningful and personal. (Hint: There’s vengeance to be had.)
What Scorched Earth does deliver, is a serviceable imitation of the wave of trashy post-Mad Max post-apocalyptic cash grabs from the early 1980s. Think titles like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, 2019, After the Fall of New York, The Exterminators of the Year 3000, and so many others. Many of which were Italian in origin, much like the spaghetti western the film also apes. Fans with a fondness for this particular subgenre will feel pangs of nostalgia and joy. This offering isn’t quite as manic or unhinged as most of its predecessors, but it’s not without an array of batshit wack-a-doo moments.
This is cheap DTV fare, and Carano never has and never will be known as a master thespian. She has the one very specific thing she does well—kicks ass and make grim faces—and has turned that into a viable post-fighting career. Though she clearly has a fine time gallivanting around the post-apocalyptic wastes, she doesn’t have as many opportunities to throw down as one might hope.
With one exception, most of the surrounding cast falls in a similarly wooden category as the lead. Ryan Robbins plays Jackson, a stock post-apocalyptic warlord who runs a small hamlet with an iron fist, but who has grander plans and wears too much eye liner. Dean S. Jagger plays his grim right hand. And everyone else generally fills the background without much to distinguish themselves.
Except for John Hannah. The star of the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Spartacus, and the revamped Mummy movies (the pre-Tom Cruise chapters), among many others, plays Gage’s mentor, Doc. He at least has a modicum of fun doing his affable smart alek shtick, though it’s difficult to buy him as a grizzled bounty hunter. There are definitely moments where it feels like he’s about to turn to the camera and shrug as if to say, “Why am I in this movie again?” Though he’s worked with Howitt before, so who knows?
Fans of a very specific niche of action movies may find much to appreciate in Scorched Earth. Nothing that will cause any major ripples or blow anyone away, it’s cheap, tawdry genre fare with a modest handful of charms. It’s exactly what it sets out to be and succeeds on those terms. Those not fond of this brand of low-budget DTV lunacy will be best served sitting this one out. [Grade: C]