Part Mad Max, part Death Race 2000, there's never a dull moment in Henry Saine's wildly over-the-top Bounty Killer, a film with style and silly amounts of violence to spare. Right from the beginning we're thrust into a balls-out insane future world where corporate CEOs are running everything; crony capitalism has ruined the country, and the only means of fighting back the people have is to trust in bounty hunters to kill off those responsible. These mercenaries reap the adoration like modern day superheroes, splashed across tabloid headlines and followed by their legions of fans. While there's potential for a darker exploration of celebrity culture, Saine and screenwriter Jason Dodson wisely choose to aim for maximum B-movie schlock value.
Smaller budgeted films with a grindhouse aesthetic are a dime a dozen, but few are as wholly entertaining as Bounty Killer is, and it starts with the cast who all seem to having the time of their lives. In particular, Christian Pitre is a real find, playing the sexy and lethal Mary Death. When we first meet her she's mowing through a bunch of armed goons in a strip club alongside Drifter (Matthew Marsden), just to take out one dorky CEO. Bullets fly, heads get lopped off, fountain of blood spurt, and yep there's even a jet pack in there somewhere. It's all ridiculous but tons of fun, and sets the stage for a ton of insanity that extends far beyond the mass amounts of bloodshed.
Drifter and Mary Death share a past, one that makes them reluctant rivals in the competitive world of wetworks. She's a superstar; complete with a diva attitude and of course her own bad ass muscle car, while Drifter is more of a grinder. He wants to do the job and avoid all of the celebrity nonsense that comes along with it, but we learn there are other reasons he desires to stay out of the spotlight. When a bounty is put on his head, everybody comes looking to collect. That includes cannibalistic Gypsies in Halloween war paint, Gary Busey, and even Mary Death herself. Yeah, that's right, Gary Busey is in here too, and it probably won't shock you that he fits in like a glove. His character description might have read: "Act like Gary Busey".
It's the little touches that make this totally unbelievable world Saine has created go off without a hitch, and those quirks are what make it so enjoyable. For instance, all of the top bounty hunters have what is called a "gun caddy", and he does exactly what you think he should. Drifter picks up a particularly overzealous and earnest one in Jack (Barak Hardley), who also happens to be clumsy and not especially good at his job. But he's also hilarious, and has the film's best zingers.When he and Drifter are captured by the Gypsies, led by R&B star Eve no less, he remarks on his general tastiness, "They're going to love me. I'm so marbled."
The cast is an oddball assortment of fresh faces and veterans, all of whom are having way too much fun. Pitre is terrific as Mary Death, showing sensuality and a rugged toughness that is as appealing as her low-cut skirt. Ex-Terminator Kristanna Loken shows up in a more buttoned-up role than we've ever seen her, playing the film's corporate villainess. Marsden, who was great a few years ago in video game adaptation DOA, is overshadowed a little bit by Pitre and Hardley. His character is a little too easy going to stand out amongst all these flashy wackos, but he makes for a solid, vaguely Mel Gibson-esque leading man.
Bounty Killer began life as a comic and short film, and it combines elements of both in good and bad ways. The kinetic pace often resembles the panels of a really well-executed comic book, but other times you get the sense that there isn't enough material for a full-length feature film. While it's never dull, because these characters are so unique and fully-formed, there are empty spots that just don't have the same zip.
Saine attacks the action sequences with reckless abandon, reveling in the gore and excessive explosions, to the point where the budget rarely seems like a factor. It takes real skill to make a small-scale film look like a major production, and he's pulled it off. Bounty Killer looks good, has a ton of ambition, and stands up confidently next to Robert Rodriguez's Machete in the realm of hyper-violent grindhouse.