Scorcher (2002) Movie Review

It probably goes without saying that “Scorcher”, a direct-to-video production, is a terrible movie. Besides that unavoidable conclusion, the movie features one of the most irritating Professional Jerks of all time. A Professional Jerk is a character within a movie (usually action movies) that serves no purpose other than to antagonize our hero as he goes about his job (usually to save the world); they’re not really villains, since villains must have a reason to be, while a PJ is only there to irritate our hero — and us.

In the case of “Scorcher,” the PJ in question is Kellaway, a FBI special agent played by Mark Rolston, whose single purpose is to make insensitive remarks to our hero at the most inopportune time and to provide a pathetic attempt at tension toward the film’s climax. (I guess the possible end of the world wasn’t tension enough.) Played with callous disregard for fine acting, common sense, or even remote plausibility, Rolston’s Kellaway is a mixture of stupidity, arrogance, and loudmouth tendencies. Worst of all, instead of feeling hate for the character, the audience is more apt to turn their wrath on screenwriters Rebecca Morrison and Graham Winter for making us endure this artificial gimmick of a character in the first place.

“Scorcher” stars Mark Dacascos as Col. Ryan Beckett, a Special Forces soldier designated to lead a team into Los Angeles to set off a nuclear warhead and save the world. It seems a series of underground nuke testing by the Chinese have hastened the end of the world via an “accelerated Greenhouse Effect.” With the help of brilliant and spunky scientist Julie (Tamara Davis), Beckett proceeds on his mission, unaware that his daughter is lost somewhere in about-to-be-blown-up L.A…

“Scorcher” runs slightly over 90 minutes, but I’ll wager that at least 20 minutes of those are composed of stock footages from other big budgeted natural disaster movies like “Volcano” and “Dante’s Peak.” If inserting disaster scenes from other movies weren’t enough, “Scorcher” also makes extensive use of the L.A. riots of 1991. (Then again, who hasn’t used those footages? Especially the aerial view of a burning Downtown L.A.?)

Mark Dacascos, who has not had a decent film role since “Brotherhood of the Wolf” and “Crying Freeman,” once again proves that he’s more than the material. Dacascos is charming as the much-too-young Special Forces Colonel, but that doesn’t seem to matter since most people in this film is miscast, with the exception being the always-endearing John Rhys-Davies (TV’s “Sliders”) as a scientist who travels with the team. Tamara Davies has perfect hair and a beautiful face even through the most dirty and grungy scenes, but she’s more believable as Rhys-Davies’ opposing daughter than a scientist. (Of course this doesn’t mean female scientists can’t be pretty and have great hair, natch.)

The writing in “Scorcher” is laughable, and the dialogue is at best tongue-in-cheek and at worst just plain cheesy. Director James Seale is so preoccupied with dollying the camera into “heroic” close-ups that he forgets about telling a decent story. There are no believable plot points in the film, even if I can buy that setting nukes in L.A. might save the world. Yet, I can’t buy that the Pentagon brass would send Beckett and his team to L.A. on a private jet, only to park on an airport strip somewhere and then drive all the way to the site in order to set off the nuke, thus risking trouble along the way. Didn’t these brilliant military minds consider that maybe flying our saviors in a helicopter (or better yet, a gunship helicopter) straight to the target site might not be a better idea? And save a lot of time? (But I guess that would make the whole “race against time” concept obsolete, wouldn’t it?)

Also, as a consideration to their man, the Pentagon promises to get Beckett’s daughter out of L.A. immediately. And what is their “extraction team?” How about two L.A. cops in a squad car! Even if everyone wasn’t trying to get out of L.A. at the same time via a mass evacuation of 8 million people, you still couldn’t drive out of L.A. in normal traffic. In fact, every single problem that Beckett and his daughter encounters could have all been avoided with a helicopter ride. What’s that you ask, “Maybe the helicopters are busy?” Apparently not, since two helicopters appear out of nowhere looking for Beckett and his team because the Pentagon brass wants to make sure the nukes are okay. Gee, maybe putting the nukes in the helicopters and flying them to the target site in the first place might have been a better idea, geniuses!

Then again, if the writers had any common sense at all, and made their characters act with even a tiny fraction of intelligence, “Scorcher” would never have gotten off the printed page, so there you have it.

James Seale (director) / Rebecca Morrison, Graham Winter (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Dacascos …. Ryan Beckett
Rutger Hauer…. President Nelson
John Rhys-Davies…. Sallin
Mark Rolston…. Kellaway
Rayne Marcus …. Faith
Tamara Davies …. Julie McGrath

Buy Scorcher on DVD