Start with the “Mad Max” franchise, add certain films by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, sprinkle in selected episodes of “The Walking Dead,” drop ‘em all in the blender, and ta-da!
You’ve got “The Bad Batch.”
After making an indie splash with the “Iranian vampire Western” film “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” in 2014, the talented writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour raises the crazy stakes with a well-made, sometimes darkly funny and at times bizarrely entertaining film that eventually falls apart due to directorial self-indulgence, excessive grotesquery, a bloated running time, too many half-baked messages—and let’s not forget the distractingly campy appearances by Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey.
“The Bad Batch” is set in a dystopian future (if you set your movie in the future, it’s practically Movie Law it has to be a “dystopian future”) in which the American government weeds out the unacceptable, brands them with tattoos and exiles them to a vast, fenced-in Texas wasteland where they must fend for themselves. (That’s about as far as the explanation goes.)
British model-actress Suki Waterhouse is Arlen, a spunky and resourceful lass dumped into the desert with nothing but a jug of water. It doesn’t take long before Arlen is hunted down, drugged and dragged to a settlement camp where she is chained up — and cannibals amputate an arm and a leg to serve as that evening’s main course. Dinner in a couple of hours, everyone!
Arlen manages to escape, and she sets out for the community of Comfort, a supposedly safe haven for all.
Jim Carrey, sporting a beard of post-retirement Letterman-esque proportions, wanders into the movie as a silent wanderer and possible sage pushing a shopping cart around the desert. OK.
Jason Momoa (of “Game of Thrones,” and the current big-screen Aquaman) is Miami Man, who presides over the cannibalistic Bridge People, many of whom are dedicated, iron-pumping bodybuilders just like their leader. Arlen saves Miami Man’s little girl (Jayda Fink), but that doesn’t necessarily mean Miami Man doesn’t want to capture and eat Arlen. Or maybe they’ll wind up together and create one of the most dysfunctional families ever! Anything is possible in “The Bad Batch.”
When Arlen gets to Comfort, she finds a strange and intoxicating and disturbing community fueled by hedonism and self-medication. The world has gone to pieces and the end is near, so why not party away your despair?
Sporting a black wig, late-Elvis sunglasses and an oversized mustache, Keanu Reeves looks like a drug lord or a cult leader as Rockwell, the leader of the community. (Turns out he’s both.) Rockwell presides over LSD-fueled parties, and yes, that’s Diego Luna as the DJ blasting the EDM to keep the masses dancing and happy.
Oh, and there’s Giovanni Ribisi, whose seemingly mad ramblings of course contain some deep truths and insight into how it all went wrong for America.
Visually, “The Bad Batch” is striking. The cinematography, the costumes, the set designs are creative and unique. Writer-director Armirpour creates some neat shots where we can see things coming before Arlen does.
Suki Waterhouse is at best underwhelming in the lead role. When called upon to convey great pain or deliver a convincing line reading at a crucial moment, she comes across as an acting student trying too hard to please her instructor.
“The Bad Batch” has all the ingredients necessary for a minor cult classic, but it’s tough to get that recipe just right.
Neon presents a film written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Rated R (for violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity). Running time: 115 minutes. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre and on demand.