In the unspecified future in which Scorched Earth takes place, the world has become a wasteland. Air and water are now commodities, to be used as currency when the time and conditions are ripe for some form of sketchy trade or deal. One can imagine an alternate universe in which screenwriters Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson have written characters in the throes of a literal psychotic break, due to a lack of proper oxygen, yet obviously humans have evolved to survive, however much they might hack and cough, in this environment. Too much exposure without a puff of air from an oxygen mask leads to black lung, filters need powdered steel to work, and tablets to detoxify the poisonous water have been produced on a mass scale to deter dehydration.
Any genuine ideas to come out of this premise are limited to the facts relayed in the above paragraph. Mort and Leeson do provide a heroine with some potential, too, but likewise do nothing with her beyond establishing that she is resourceful. Gage, as played by Gina Carano, is also firmly committed to the endgame of whatever bounty for which she has been hired. That is her duty, and that is almost everything we learn about her until a small revelation occurs that informs her current occupation. How the film introduces her is also supposedly important, too: She has been hired to retrieve a bounty and only succeeds in retrieving half of it.
That is because she accidentally kills the other half, an outlaw named Chavo (Luvia Petersen), in the process. Deciding on a whim to impersonate the outlaw in order to track down a second one, named Thomas Jackson (Ryan Robbins, skilled at conveying the character's menace through a smile that doesn't quite reach his empty eyes), Gage finds herself in a makeshift town that protects Jackson, his right-hand man Lear (Dean S. Jagger), and their lackeys from external threat. Working carefully to keep up the facade, Gage must also figure out how to stop Jackson from manufacturing powdered steel and water tablets for his own gain.
That's about it in terms of the plot, which eventually becomes a revenge scheme when it appears Gage and Jackson's paths have crossed once before. Predictably, it's all a series of excuses for director Peter Howitt to stage and execute some generic, been-there-done-that shootouts that are vaguely enjoyable but have been too choppily edited to induce much excitement. Carano, meanwhile, has precisely the physique to pull off a role such as this, but the only characteristic had by Gage is her snide sarcasm. It isn't enough for Carano to do anything but pull off a physical performance, and that itself isn't convincing enough to buy her as a lead performer. Scorched Earth is as bland as these run-of-the-mill apocalyptic action-thrillers get.
Gina Carano (Gage), John Hannah (Doc), Ryan Robbins (Thomas Jackson), Dean S. Jagger (Lear), Stephanie Bennett (Melena), Patrick Gilmore (Sheriff Grubbs).
Directed by Peter Howitt and written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson.
Rated R (violence, language).
Released in select cities on February 2, 2018.