An unnamed man (Denzel Washington) trudges across a post-apocalyptic U.S.A., determined that his precious cargo a book reach its destination. All goes relatively well, until this stranger ambles into your typical, lawless frontier town (like Deadwood, after The Bomb), run by a violent despot named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie also wants the mysterious book, and thus, a number of shoot-outs, brawls and road chases ensue. Carnegie has a posse of toughs, while Mr. X is burdened with a bratty teen-age girl named Solara (Mila Kunis). (Solara is a bum note in this unrelenting murk-fest -- an obvious bit of eye candy, with her unchapped pouty lips and brand-new skinny jeans. Everyone else shops at Mad Max R Us.)
The movie, shot in a super-saturated near-monotone by Albert and Allen Hughes, looks great: The production designer had fun making our nation look appropriately obliterated, and the Hughes take plenty of inspiration from classic Westerns. Unfortunately, there just isn't much of a story, no real surprise or tension, and the big "reveal" (which you'll guess well in advance) struck me as amateurish, and not quite defensible.
But Washington and Oldman are always fun to watch; they can play this pulpy stuff with just the right balance of winking sincerity. If you thought The Road needed more zingy violence -- Denzel shoots a hairless cat! -- then this American dystopia might be for you. Starts Fri., Jan. 15. (Al Hoff) [2 out of 4 stars]