Breakout directors are often saddled with unrealistic expectations when it comes to their sophomore effort, and at least some of the critical backlash against The Bad Batch stems from reviewers who were possibly too enamored of writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The remainder of that derision is likely rooted in the fact that The Bad Batch is just not a very good film.
Like Night, Batch is a stylish melange of disparate genre influences, but unlike that film, this one never coalesces into a cohesive whole. It plays a bit like Mad Max: Fury Road meets Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers or High Plains Drifter by way of Burning Man — and not in a good way, if you were holding out hope that weirdness alone would carry the day. Amirpour’s capacity as a visual stylist remains beyond question, but Batch feels like a loose collection of half-baked and ill-considered set pieces hastily thrown together into the vague semblance of an incoherent narrative.
The film is set in a dystopian near-future wasteland in which the undesirables of society have been exiled to the desert to fend for themselves. This leads to roving packs of cannibals that look like rejects from Muscle Beach (because, why not?) harvesting limbs from naive neophytes who haven’t yet figured out that the golf cart visible on the horizon may not be trying to play through. Such is the fate of our protagonist Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), who quickly — and in particularly brutal fashion — finds herself a few pounds lighter at the hands of a tribe of iron-pumping long-pig aficionados led by Jason Momoa’s Miami Man.
What follows is ostensibly a revenge plot of sorts, but Amirpour seems to lose all interest in sensible character arcs early in the second act, preoccupied instead with improbable raves and odd celebrity cameos. Keanu Reeves turns up as an overweight and heavily mustachioed Jim Jones proxy, Giovanni Ribisi chews his fair share of scenery as the colorful town schizophrenic, and Jim Carrey’s knack for physical comedy is tempered by uncharacteristic pseudo-restraint in his turn as a mute drifter. While these familiar faces can prove distracting, they’re nowhere near as jarring as Momoa’s bad imitation of Al Pacino’s Scarface accent or Waterhouse’s inconsistent amputee limp. But even had the cast performed to the full extent of their talents, Amirpour’s script simply doesn’t have enough meat on the bone for everyone to take a bite.
Amirpour’s self-indulgence can be excused to an extent, but she never takes full advantage of the leeway afforded her by her previous success. What promised to be a pulpy exercise in grindhouse exploitation instead comes off as little more than an overlong slog through an inhospitable hellscape of disappointingly desiccated ideas. Amirpour has about half of a movie here, and no amount of contrived celebrity padding can make up for her story’s lack of a point. Had it been just a little more bizarre, The Bad Batch could well have justified a cult following — but as it stands, this batch of disconnected concepts could just as easily have been exiled to the video-on-demand desert with no one to mourn its passing. Rated R for violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity. Now Playing at Grail Moviehouse.