I regret to inform you, dear readers, that Scorched Earth, Peter Howitt's post-apocalyptic Western about a lady bounty hunter who avenges her sister's death, possesses much promise in premise but onscreen shows no signs of life. A more commanding lead might have helped. We're told that bounty hunter Gage, played by Gina Carano, is an intimidating figure whose reputation precedes her, but when she comes upon a gang of outlaws, the warning she issues them sounds like mom is really busy on the phone right now, so you'd better just do what she says.
Carano's expertise has never been in delivering lines. The MMA veteran's best performance came in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, where she played a duplicitous spy. Soderbergh smartly kept the dialogue spare and relied on Carano's physicality to tell the story, resulting in some epic hand-to-hand fight scenes, most memorably opposite Michael Fassbender. There's a curious mixture of beauty, grace and blunt brutality to her fighting style, but Scorched Earth doesn't touch it. She carries a gun and a knife, but we're most often privy to her aiming the gun and shooting. Apparently, there is no shortage of bullets in this new world, even though the precious metals for filtering air are scarce.
Even if every scene was essentially a sequence of exquisite punches, though, the film would still be hampered by Howitt's indecision about its tone. A script that has the dialogue "Suck wind and die" demands the director camp up the production, but Howitt only goes halfway. With a film called Scorched Earth, you gotta go all in.