Even the most outlandish post-apocalyptic story needs a believable setup. You can get drawn in by Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later because how does the apocalypse happen? Sickness. The sickness may not really exist, but we as viewers can buy that a disease can spread quickly through bites or bodily fluids. Sometimes war is the reason the world ends. Civil unrest. Natural disaster. Those reasons move forward quickly and leave little room for escape. For the most part, they don't make you scratch your noggin and say, "wait, what?"
In the film Tooth And Nail, the world ends because it runs out of gas. Try to wrap your mind around that. Runs out of gas. It's assumed that the whole world will grab their collective heads and start screaming like escaped lunatics. Running out of gas just seems to me like too slow of a burn to create a dystopian landscape and normal people reverting to wanton cannibalism. Yeah, I know, Dawn of the Dead is cannibal city, but as I said before: it's a sickness that's quickly and logically spread.
I couldn't get past the "no gas" thing. Even with a pretty decent cast and the basically good premise of survival of the fittest, Tooth And Nail couldn't hold my interest for long periods of time. It had its moments, believe me. It wasn't a total lost cause, but it remains largely forgettable. Still, let's jump into the synopsis:
A group of survivors called Foragers chase off a nasty fellow (Vinnie Jones) after discovering him slitting some poor sap's throat. They rescue a woman, Neon (Rachel Miner) and take her back to the abandoned hospital where they've been living with a group led by Professor Darwin (Robert Carradine) who for once was not being pursued by this guy:
No, the Rovers of the movie looked more like Vinnie here:
The Foragers are split on whether they should keep Neon around, but realize they're still human at least. One of the Foragers, a tough guy called Viper (Michael Kelly) storms off. During the night, a Rover sneaks in and slits the throat of the Lambda Lambda Lambda alumnus before dragging him off to an unknown, but likely fire-roasted, fate. The Foragers argue about whether or not Neon had anything to do with it but pretty much decide she didn't.
Meanwhile, outside, Yukon (Zach Robidas) searches for the Professor out on the tennis courts. C'mon, Yukon, you know those nerds don't play tennis! To show him the error of his ways, a gang of Rovers attacks him, wounding him before he gets away and back into the hospital. He doesn't get far before he's hacked up by Jackal (Michael Madsen, who also produced).
The Foragers survive this round, but still aren't the most trusting of Neon. She's met them before, telling her story of escape after the Rovers attacked her group of twenty in a grocery store. The Foragers, now led by Dakota, decide to try and escape during the night. That's all fine and good, but the Rovers are still hungry. See, they're cannibals. They're not just mean guys or members of Alpha Beta. OK, that's the last Revenge of the Nerds reference. I've gone to the well too many times with that one.
Most of the Foragers do a decent job of hiding, except for skinny Max, who is hacked up and dragged off. Jackal almost gets a hold of Dakota, but mute little Nova shoots him and - I think - kills him. I think we're supposed to assume he's dead. I don't know.
Somewhere else, after some naughty action together, Ford (Rider Strong) and Torino (Alexandra Barreto) run afoul of some Rovers before a distant trumpet calls off the hunters. Since when are there rules in an anarchic, post-apocalyptic gang? Oh, well. Maybe it adds to their cruel nature. Ford takes a nasty wound to the leg and has to be fixed up by Dakota.
Dakota and Neon argue about who should be leading the group, and that's when Neon shows her true colors: she's a Rover. Not only that, she's apparently the leader. She clocks Dakota and shoots Torino before taking her rival to Rover headquarters. They lock her away and return to the hospital to fetch the others. Just in time for a rescue is Viper, who shows his bad-ass Hawkeye (of Marvel Comics' Avengers) side a few times before taking a spear in the back during a rescue attempt at the hospital.
Nova hides from a pursuing Mongrel before tricking him into an old walk-in freezer and locking him inside. Dakota finds Torino dead, having bled out from her gunshot wound, and Ford, who's in no condition to go anywhere. She gives him some pain killers and sets out to find Nova. She finds the girl, but Neon shows up to ruin the fun and there's a standoff. Neon leaves Dakota to a fellow Rover, but Dakota gets crazy on the guy and throws acid in his face. Dakota's had enough and joins KISS to get her revenge:
The Rovers are living high on the hog, or rather the cooked carcasses of Ford and Torino, but dinner turns out to be pretty heavy. The Rovers start passing out just as Warrior Dakota shows up and methodically slaughters them all, including a pretty impressive shot to Neon's head:
Turns out Dakota gave Ford some pain killers. Turns out she gave him - and Torino - a BUTTLOAD of pain killers. The Rovers ate Pain Killer Pie, pretty much. Dakota gathers up a still-alive Nova and leaves the city to an uncertain future.
Ah, well. The parts were there, but as a whole, Tooth and Nail just didn't whet my appetite for good post-apocalyptic horror. That premise, the one with the "we just all ran out of gas," didn't hold water at all, and weakened the entire plot from the get-go. The cast was really good and despite some early missteps as to creating sympathetic characters, we do eventually care about a few of them. The gore was appropriately heavy, which will please some gore fans, I'm sure. But on the whole, I'd rather spend time with this "Tooth and Nail":
That's right. Dokken, baby!
Well, dear survivors, at least the only cannibals we have to deal with shuffle and groan at a much slower pace. And aren't led by a guy who might break out into a dance to "Stuck In The Middle With You."