Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bad to the Bone: THE BAD BATCH

Ana Lily Amirpour’s second feature, The Bad Batch, is an extension of her cool sense of iconography and obvious love of genre playfulness, as displayed in her 2014 debut, the slick, black-and-white, Iranian vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This new film is a dirty, sweaty, grimy post-apocalyptic western, with grifters and drifters eking out survival in a sun-blasted stretch of desolate Texan desert. It creates a vision of America in tune with these pessimistic and absurd times. In this near-future world, the poor, the sick, the disabled, the undocumented immigrants, and the convicts are tossed without a safety net to live discarded in this wild patch of land known as The Bad Batch. (I wondered if this was just one of many such locales, but the film has too narrow a focus to get into that.) On one side of the desert is a trailer park full of cannibals (among them glowering muscle Jason Momoa). On the other is a town called Comfort, run as a cult of personality by a man (Keanu Reeves, in another of his unusual and mesmerizing roles of late) who preaches from the giant neon boombox in the center of town which houses a DJ. Stuck between them is a pretty blonde (Suki Waterhouse) who quickly pays an arm and a leg for the privilege of sticking around, then stumbles around looking for...something. (There’s also Jim Carrey as a mute homeless man, so weather-beaten as to be nearly unrecognizable.) 

As you can see, this is the sort of movie that sounds like a lot of fun when you hear its eccentricities explained flat out like that, but for all the imagination that went into creating this world – like an appealing low-budget Mad Max prequel vibe run through a Robert Rodriguez emulator – there’s far too little narrative interest. It’s a compelling, visually striking environment. Lyle Vincent’s woozy sun-baked cinematography perfectly cooks the grubby, dirty, displays of dried blood, heat-blasted landfills, and craggy survivor’s peeling complexions. The imagery is so matter-of-factly bizarre that a cult attachment to its dutifully flat-faced oddity is inevitable. But all this creates a movie which never arrives at a reason for being. It’s not fun enough for sick kicks, or smart enough for a trenchant allegory. It simply rides its grubby cool, coasting to a dead end.

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