Dimension Films // 2002 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 2nd, 2003
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States...Roy Batty?
When Antarctica catches on fire and Peru is pelted with more molten boulders than usual, the US Government sends out its crack team of research scientists to discover why Mother Nature is having conniption fits. It turns out that Ma Environ's girdle is all bunched up and the extra planetary pounds she's packed on recently are starting to shift under those substrata stretch pants. If left unchecked, Earth's undergarment (or as the bold brainiacs refer to it, the massive tectonic plates) will jostle the continents into a state of continuous cataclysmic confusion. And there'll be some greenhouse gases. And then life as we know it will end. Or maybe not. That point's not really clear. Anyway, a jaded Colonel who thinks that giving his depressed teenage daughter a digital pager will correct his years of bad parenting is assigned the job of escorting a couple of nuclear devices to the primary detonation destination, which just so happens to fall somewhere between Hollywood and Vine. Yes, Los Angeles is marked for smashing as the globe's hope for continued existence requires an immediate irradiation of America's most culturally void location. But just when it seems like everything is coming up H-bombs, some weird internal power struggle cabal sparks off and soon the mission is in jeopardy. It's up to the number crunching geothermal experts and the Colonel (with a conveniently kidnapped subplot family member) to save the day. Or is Earth destined for one hell of a Scorcher?
If Scorcher has one obvious flaw, one mistake not purposefully built into its chaotic, clichéd storyline, it's a substantial lack of ass kicking. There are just not enough mano-y-mano fisticuffs to propel this movie into the realm of classic bad B-movie action fodder. If present, a fair amount of boot to booty rump reaming would have put this end of the world entity into the dominion of over the top tactical treats. After all, Scorcher is one movie where the word "enough" is never part of anyone's vocabulary. It says yes to another excess and then smoothers everything in even more convolution to bolster the overkill. The screenwriter, for example, starts off with the oddball premise borrowing heavily from Armageddon, The Core, and any other Earth-first disaster epic. Then it goes and slams China as the enemy in love with all things nuclear. Then we get the world's dentures (or plates, whatever) shifting all catawampus, causing untold calamitous results (like volcanoes, earthquakes, and the election of a replicant as President). Sprinkle throughout with a group of characters each owning his or her individual excessive human baggage back story (deadbeat dad/military misfit, acclaimed terminally ill scientist/absentee father) and force them to interact. As they bond and breed, even more story arcs occur. It's not long before we have an overflowing Petri dish of plot points. Such an overwhelming slime pit of sagas would normally infect and ferment your average low budget B-movie, rendering it as unappetizing as moldy headcheese. But our director, James Seale, shows himself particularly adept at foisting this potential fiction failing aloft, like a skilled cinematic juggler. He manages to keep all the balderdash airborne, narrowly avoiding the mishaps that are killing his film world.
And yet, there is a distinct void of violence, a lack of karate, kung fu, or gymkata that keeps Scorcher from completely satisfying. The movie tries to trick us, adding more surreal individuals and CGI mushroom clouds to blur our need for a good butt beating or two. To help hide the dearth of carcass concussions, we get a Jesus freak burn victim ranting and raving like Strother Martin with a really bad Messianic complex, and scenes of Rutger Hauer as the most disheveled President since Nixon choked Checkers. Yet we still feel an excitement emptiness that only ass kicking can quell. Sometimes, you just need to see a little hinder being waxed to get the full scope of an end of existence devastation movie. For some reason, a nice bare knuckles brawl levels the playing field, highlights the humanity in the hyper stylized proceedings and feeds our pagan blood lust like nothing else. Sure, be-atches and bastards holding their handguns sideways, blasting the body parts out of and off each other has charms that soothe (and hopefully expose) the savage breast. So does a good old-fashioned horror movie stalker slashing. But blow-by-blow, watching a couple of cool customers square off and engage in a choreographed concerto of chaos just hits the sweet spot spectacularly.
But to bellyache over what Scorcher lacks is a little like screaming for crumbled up cookie things when the rest of the sundae is more than satisfying without it. After all, any movie that champions the random nuking of Los Angeles as a means of straightening out the planet's internal hernia wins some manner of amusement award automatically. And then there's the whole Dutch President angle. Rutger Hauer is simply priceless as the commander in chief, suit and face in full rumple mode. True, it's a little farfetched. After all, can you really imagine having an actor notorious for silly B-movies playing the Leader of the Free World as a combination of unmade bed and clueless loon...oh, wait. Anyway, Scorcher may not pack a punch, but it sure gives us enough embarrassing rage riches to overcome our need for more face slap satisfaction.
Maybe it's just this critic, or maybe the angry advocates over at Artisan have found a way to infiltrate formerly full service DVD providers to instill in them, cult like, a newfound belief in bare bones digital disc packages. Dimension, who has been known to throw a bonus bone or two at even the weakest wastes of independent filmmaking has jumped on the "just dump 'em" bandwagon and gives Scorcher a VHS style release. True, there is an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image to more clearly show the action scenes cribbed from Dante's Peak and Daylight. But aside from a nice, clean transfer and a decent 5.1 surround soundscape, there is not a single extra bit of filmic fluff added here. Scorcher cries out for some manner of behind the scenes explanation since it contains so many eccentric elements that require reconciliation. How did they develop the premise? Was it hard incorporating footage from other films into the movie? Who the heck is Mark Dacascos and why is he starring here? And just how did Mr. Hauer approach his portrayal of the President? But we don't get any answers, no commentary filled with insights or media friendly puff piece to clarify the conundrum.
Frankly, Scorcher deserves better than this. Sure, it's a strange pseudo cinematic effort with more moxie than manhandling, but it's entertaining and engaging in a Saturday matinee kind of way. Ass kicking would have made it magical, but this is still one film that finds its fun in that most amusing of all Earth epochs: impending planetary destruction.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R