The Bad Batch: It's All In The Name
Review by Aaron Haughton
I just walked out of The Bad Batch, and I'm not sure what I just watched, but I know whatever it was wasn't good. Feeling slightly embarrassed, having dragged two friends to the feature, I offered to pay for their tickets as we ambled semi-silent and without direction, like the film itself, out of the theater and toward our respective vehicles.
On the surface, there's a lot to get excited about with The Bad Batch. All you need to do is glance at the cast list (which boasts names like Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves), see that Annapurna and Vice are attached, and take a gander at the trailer (which makes the film look like a grand cinematic spectacle). However, the reality here is that there's little to nothing to get jazzed about with Ana Lily Amirpour's new film. Essentially, it's long-winded music video of pseudo-interesting images with no substance, meaning or plot. With a nearly 2 hour runtime, it plays like an extremely dull, directionless meandering toward nothing.
Part of the film's problem is that Amirpour doesn't seem to know what she wants her film to be, which results in a slow-paced, anticlimactic drone that dips its toe into several genres without getting fully wet. At times the film wants to be a horror film without delivering the goods as a horror film. Other times, it wants to be a spaghetti western without delivering the goods as a spaghetti western. And in the same breath, the film tries to emulate a Mad Max atmosphere and Harmony Korine-esque vibe (think Spring Breakers), which plays off as heavy-handed and forced, giving us no substance or pay off. In short, it's just boring, and the trailer makes for a more interesting viewing.
The story centers around Arlen (played by Suki Waterhouse), one of the bad batch outcasts that society has banished to the barren Texas desert that is unprotected by the United States government. From there, she is abruptly captured by a cannibal tribe, led by the Miami Man (played with a horrible Cuban accent by Jason Momoa), who chain her up and take her right leg and arm for an appetizer.
Realizing she has to fight to survive, Arlen frees herself, stealing a skateboard and scooting out into the desert where a homeless drifter (played by Jim Carrey, who you may not even recognize) rescues her from certain death. He takes Arlen over to the town of Comfort, which is led by The Dream (played by Keanu Reeves), who keeps his citizens happy by handing out free drugs for nightly desert raves. In Comfort, Arlen is set up with a prosthetic leg that magically fits and free drugs, but even then isn't satisfied. She takes a pistol and heads out to the desert toward the cannibal camp known as Bridge Town. After getting some minor revenge, Arlen and Miami Man intertwine to rescue Miami Man's daughter from The Dream.
There are moments where the film could be humorous, but it's slow pace really kills any possibility for comedic moments to land; the humorous city signs that read "We have AC here" or "This isn't real" fall flat and ring hollow. Even the overt comedy of The Dream's gang of impregnated women wearing shirts that read, "The Dream is inside me," can't land because the tone and pacing won't really allow it. There were also a lot of missed comedic opportunities too. For instance, Amirpour could've poked fun at the convenience of Arlen getting a prosthetic leg -- which just so happens to not only fit, but to also be for the appropriate leg -- by having it be for the wrong leg. This could have added a little to Arlen's character and maybe even land a few laughs, which the film so badly needed.
Other obvious points of failure include Arlen's always inanimate nub (because nubs don't move, of course), and the fact that Amirpour was OK with paying to digitally remove Suki Waterhouse's leg and arm, but wasn't willing to remove Jason Momoa's clearly Samoan forearm tattoo from his supposedly Cuban character (as if we wouldn't notice).
To toss out a few positives, the cinematography of desert mountains and sky was very beautiful, and there are a handful of images that are distinct and memorable (although, they'd be better served as photographs or in a music video). The film has little dialogue, which is one of it’s few crowning attributes; however, whenever anyone speaks, it does little to nothing to advance the film (that doesn’t know how to move forward) and would be better just remaining silent. The only redeemable bit of dialogue in the film is Keanu’s monologue in the third act. Sadly, the most interesting part of the two hour experience is the short film, Six and a Half, which plays before the feature and presumably shares a bit of Arlen's backstory, which we do not get with The Bad Batch.
If I really try to extract meaning from the film -- and I mean really try -- I have to reach deep and nearly dig. Doing so would be giving Amirpour more credit than she deserves for this stinker, so I won't get into it; I've already said more than this rotten film deserves.
The takeaway here: I cannot in good conscience advise anyone to see this film. I have not seen it, but Cars 3 is probably a better gamble.
What did you think of the film? Did you think it was a stinker? We want to know. Vent frustration and share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. As always, remember to viddy well!