Hard Bounty (1995): How the Breast Was Won

Matty hits the trail with Jim Wynorski’s so-so oater.

There’s a lot to like and, indeed, love about HARD BOUNTY, but its flaws are too pronounced to rule it as anything other than an interesting failure at best and a slog at worst. 

What’s good is really good. Landing on U.S. VHS in April 1995, a month and a half after Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead (1995) bombed in American theatres, but at the same time as Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven (1992) and George Pan Cosmatos’ cult favourite Tombstone (1993) were still doing robust business on tape, Jim Wynorski’s first of two contributions to the revisionist western fad of the ‘90s (the other is the vastly superior neo-western Against the Law (1997)) is anchored by an excellent look and feel. Like Raimi and Cosmatos’ pictures, Hard Bounty was shot at the historic Old Tucson Studios, Arizona and boasts a similarly reverential yet playful aesthetic. Even within the boxed, 4×3 confines of video, it’s a joy watching Wynorski infuse his usual hearty visual style with all of his favourite western licks; from Ford and Hawks in terms of composition and texture, to Sergios Leone and Corbucci in rhythm and movement. Recent news that Hard Bounty is finally getting the Blu-ray treatment should be heralded. It’s a feast for the peepers. 

The film is home to several cracking performances. Wynorski perennials Jay Richardson and John Terlesky are excellent as the baddies: a greedy property developer and his coolly psychotic lapdog, the latter clad in black and governed by a perverse moral code. Them being named Bartell and Carver, presumably in honour of Wynorski’s fellow Corman alumni, adds to the fun, as do supporting slots from Buck Flower and the incomparable Ross Hagen. Three of Wynorski’s four leading ladies also put a solid show in: while Felicity Waterman annoys with her squawking kleptomaniac schtick, Kelly LeBrock, Kimberley Kelley, and Sorceress (1995) babe Rochelle Swanson exude an irresistible mix of toughness, sass, and sex appeal. Hookers turned avenging angels, their saddling up at the hour mark affords a genuine “hell yeah” moment and Hard Bounty is at its most potent whenever they’re on screen. However, therein is the root of its problems. 

Sluggishly written by Karen Kelly — who’d previously penned A Woman Scorned (1993) and Illicit Dreams (1994) for Hard Bounty producer/frequent Wynorski collaborator Andrew Stevens — the thrust of the snail’s paced plot is muddy and full of dead air. Is the film about Richardson and Terlesky’s nefarious activities and how LeBrock and co. can stop ‘em? Or is it about LeBrock’s attempts to better her and her fellow working gals’ lives? Or bounty hunter Matt McCoy’s bullet-sprayed redemption, after initially vowing to holster his guns in the wake of a job gone wrong? Sadly, despite Wynorski and Kelly flirting with a rousing feminist bent and positioning Hard Bounty as a bawdier and edgier low-budget alternative to Johnathan Kaplan’s dreary cowgirl caper Bad Girls (1994), their aspirations are sunk the second they allow the McCoy strand to take a tighter and tighter hold, reducing LeBrock, Kelley, and Swanson to footnotes and suffocating the development of their fascinating dramatic arc. It’s a maddening and whopping great misstep, worsened by the fact that McCoy’s character is such a poorly sketched bore: a shoddy Eastwood facsimile who begins as a grizzled love interest for LeBrock, before shifting to an irritating white knight who continually swoops in to save the girls at the last minute.

USA ● 1995 ● Western ● 88mins

Matt McCoy, Kelly LeBrock, John Terlesky, Rochelle Swanson, Jay Richardson ● Dir. Jim Wynorski  ● Wri. Karen Kelly

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