Bounty Killer (2013) – Directed by Henry Saine – Starring Matthew Marsden, Christian Pitre, Kristanna Loken, Barak Hardley, Abraham Benrubi, Eve Jeffers, Beverly D’Angelo, Kevin McNally, and Gary Busey.
The semester is over. All the grading is completed and grades have been posted. Both my latest collection, GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC: UNDER ZEPPELIN SKIES, and my latest novel, THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE (a sequel to THE COMING OF FROST) are done and awaiting editing. I’d flipped through the Netflix offerings a hundred times without finding anything that really suited me, eventually settling on watching Extreme Christmas Trees, one of those harmless, silly little half-documentary, half-reality specials where a vanilla announcer talks about how extreme it is to build a Christmas tree out of lobster traps or how extreme it is to own a whole lot of glass ornaments. They always try to trump up the danger – Will the lobster tree collapse? How many children on the human, singing Christmas tree will get dizzy? – but eventually it becomes a special about an idiot cutting holes in his house to make it look like a Christmas tree has fallen from the sky and gotten stuck crashing through the roof. You end up thinking, “Why did this idiot actually cut holes through his house when he could have just cut the tree into smaller chunks?”
It’s at that moment I realized I’d OD’d on Christmas and needed something else. Christmas is three days away and I was in the mood to watch something not Christmassy. I wanted something that didn’t want to do anything but entertain me, something that was well made but absent pretension.
Enter BOUNTY KILLER.
I’d seen the Blu-ray at the store but knew nothing else about it, and it’s exactly the kind of movie I pay Netflix to stream for me. It looked lurid, purposely a bit cheesy, and totally awesome, and it turns out that’s exactly what it is, and then some. It’s everything I want in a B movie: awesome premise, hot women, fast cars, crazy people in make-up, plenty of violence, some awful dialogue, and a serving of cheesecake.
BOUNTY KILLER has a fantastic, throwback premise. Corporations have ruined the world and now in a post-apocalyptic state, bounty killers have become celebrities for killing the old white collar bad guys. Is it one idea too many? Yup. There’s really no reason to have them be celebrities because other than a photojournalist who sticks around just long enough to be an annoyance, the movie doesn’t do a lot with it. It’s non-essential to the story of Drifter (Matthew Marsden) and Mary Death (Christian Pitre), two of the best bounty killers around, but I’d rather have a movie like this have one idea too many than one idea too little. This is the kind of story where our leads have a past that’s finally caught up with them. Drifter used to be a corporate scumbag in the pre-apocalyptic world and despite all the killing he’s done since the world went to hell, he’s just had a warrant issued for his death.
Drifter decides he’s going to go see the Council of 9 to have a hearing on the matter. They’re the ruling council that issues the death warrants and everyone tells him that this is a bad idea because the Council’s security guards will kill him. Drifter tells everyone he’s going and they’re not because he’s the type of hero that is totally willing to put himself on the line but won’t let anyone else do it for him.
That’s all pretty standard stuff, but here’s what I really like about BOUNTY KILLER – even though Drifter is this stock kind of hero that we instantly recognize as being both a rogue and totally selfless (whore-bedding rogue with a code of honor is the male equivalent to female hooker with the heart of gold, isn’t it?), the writers add a bit of depth to his situation. Turns out, the Council of 9 knew that Drifter used to be a corporate CEO, and he’s already cut a deal with them to be an informant. So when he tells people Mary or his gun caddy Jack (Barak Hardley) he doesn’t want them to come, it’s not just because he’s being selfless, but because whatever it is he needs to fear when he goes to see the Council, it ain’t the Council.
Make no mistake, however, about what makes BOUNTY KILLER something special: Christian Pitre as Mary Death.
Ms. Pitre oozes just the right amount of enticing, inappropriate sex appeal and it’s balanced by just the right amount of violence. Her outfit is all sexy waitress on top and go-go boots on the bottom. It’s a gorgeous design and harkens back to a 1950s/1960s style that, when used in the contemporary context, works as fetish more than fashion. It’s the kind of outfit that looks like it was born on the illustration board of J. Scott Campbell – it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but not too many dudes are going to complain about it. Mary Death uses her sex appeal to raise her profile as a bounty killer, which is the modern trick with using sex – as long as the woman is in control of it, and as long as she’s also proficient at doing something else, you’ve got the okay to have an incredibly sexy woman running around in completely sexy outfits. We’re not so much in a post-cheesecake, or post-fetish era as much as we are in a Self-Determining Cheesecake/Fetish era. (That phrase is way too wordy to catch on.) BOUNTY KILLER succeeds with Mary Death in a way that Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch largely failed, because when you get past the fetishized surface, there’s a self-determining woman at the core. In Sucker Punch, when you get past the surface, you’re largely finding women who are being fetishized in a fantasy to cover the abuse they’re experiencing in reality.
Mary Death has an actual back story. Once a gypsy (this film’s version of the post-apocalyptic horde roaming the world with face paint), she ran away to find Drifter so he could train her in being a bounty killer. There’s the inevitable training sequence, which reminded me a bit of Elektra’s training sequence in Daredevil, except there’s a real intensity to the way Pitre attacks the scene.
Hell, there’s a real intensity to the way Pitre/Mary Death attacks her entire life that makes the character work and makes her incredibly watchable well beyond her hotness. The film knows this, too, because he even though she gets third billing behind Marsden and Kristanna Loken (who has a small role as Drifter’s ex-wife/ex-business partner), and even though this is ostensibly Drifter’s story, the film keeps looking back in Mary’s direction. The character is a bit unhinged – you’re never entirely sure if she’s going to react to something Drifter does by trying to kill him or fuck him – and that makes her all the more interesting.
There’s a few famous people cameos sprinkled throughout – Gary Busey, Beverly D’Angelo, Loken, that really tall dude who worked the counter on ER – but Christian Pitre is the actor you’re going to be talking about afterwards.
If you’ve ever watched a Robert Rodriguez movie like Machete and wished the Crazy Babysitter Twins were the stars, well, that’s what BOUNTY KILLER delivers. Mary Death is the star of this movie and I hope they make an entire series around this character. BOUNTY KILLER is exactly what I want out of a B movie. Directors like Rodriguez can make whatever film they want and I’ll line up to watch all of them (I absolutely hate when people tell others what they should be doing with their lives), but there is something slightly disappointing about a guy that talented making one purposely nostalgic movie after another when he’s proven he can make his own signature films. I’m more interested in B movies like Machete or BOUNTY KILLER when they serve as proving grounds, made by hungry filmmakers. Director Henry Saine and Christian Pitre don’t even have Wikipedia pages, yet. There’s something exciting about seeing people at the beginning of their careers.
I’m on board for whatever Saine does next, just like I’m tuning in the next time Pitre gets a starring role. (If I ran the world, it would be the cinematic version of this.)
I said up top that BOUNTY KILLER was the kind of movie that I pay Netflix to stream for me, but I dig this movie enough that I sent $10.99 Amazon’s way to send me the Blu-ray.
I love this movie.
I need to find a way to make making movies like BOUNTY KILLER my full-time job.