There are some movies that sound amazing from the synopsis alone. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, The Bad Batch is one of those movies: Society’s outcasts are sentenced to a fenced-in wasteland outside of Texas, cannibalistic clans terrorize the heroes, and Keanu Reeves plays a character known simply as the Dream. It may not be good, but it will definitely be fun. Unfortunately, 2017’s The Bad Batch is unable to live up to its entertaining premise.
The main problem with the film is the writing. The Bad Batch removes all the excitement out of an inherently fun story. Amirpour decides to rely more on setting and tone than on dialogue. This leads to long periods where little is said. Instead of building the story however, it seems as if the director is simply filling time. When there finally is progression, it’s rushed and confusing. Character motivations are lost and the movie has a paper-thin plot. Storylines are introduced and dropped with no conclusion. Essentially, the movie continues along at two speeds: 1) slow and boring or 2) fast and unclear. The biggest offense the writing commits, however is a horrible one liner the Dream tells the one armed, one legged protagonist Arlen (Sukie Waterhouse) near the end of the film. It is almost as if the entire movie was made for this one “witty” rejoinder.
The bad writing also affects the cast as they are given cringe-worthy dialogue that alternates between painfully generic and laughably bad. The poor acting in the film is not solely due to poor writing, however. While the casting of Keanu Reeves as a philosophical tyrant named the Dream may seem inspired, it reads better than it actually plays. Never known for his strong acting, Reeves gives one of the laziest performances of his career and sounds like he is just reading the script. The Dream is either supposed to be a menacing villain or a peaceful visionary; it’s hard to tell which, since Reeves sleepwalks through bad dialogue. (The Dream is apparently a villain even though his ultimate goal is to bring peace to a lawless society; just another instance of shoddy writing.)
Even more baffling is the use of Jim Carrey. Carrey is one of the most recognizable actors in the world based on his roles in Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, and Bruce Almighty, yet is easily missed in Amirpour’s film. Not only is he covered in dirt and rags, the odd decision is made to give Carrey exactly zero speaking parts. Jason Momoa plays a character apparently named Miami Man and speaks with a hysterically bad accent. Much like Brad Pitt in Snatch, it is almost impossible to understand what Momoa is saying, the difference being that in Snatch this is for comedic effect while in The Bad Batch it’s an exercise in frustration.
Waterhouse may be the most negatively impacted by the writing, though. Is Arlen a victim to be pitied or is she a revenge-driven criminal that should be feared? Is she looking for personal salvation or love? Why should the audience care at all? Arlen’s motivations are never explained, so the movie ends up providing a series of nonsensical events that are only connected due to common characters. Waterhouse’s acting is also confusing. The actress is required to play a wide range of emotions that are not conducive to the writing. For example, Arlen casts loving glances at Miami Man shortly after destroying his family. When Arlen does speak, Waterhouse’s delivery is average at best. This may be more a result of Amirpour’s writing than Waterhouse’s acting, however. Waterhouse is asked to do a lot even though the writing provides very little.
Though there are some well shot scenes in The Bad Batch, they come off as self-indulgent. The first time Arlen’s winky eye emoji shorts appear in the foreground, it’s genuinely funny. Though there is no apparent meaning to them (Arlen is neither witty or flirtatious), they are a contrast to the harsh world the movie is set in. After seeing the exact same shot for the tenth time, though, you can’t help but wonder why the protagonist doesn’t change his clothes. This is not the only case of over-directing, either. A rave is held in the small town of Comfort and it provides some of the better-looking moments of the film. Neon lights provide lighting for an otherwise dark night while a drug addled Arlen stumbles around and constantly looks up at a beautiful star filled sky. That beauty is quickly diminished, though, as the scene continues on for far too long. To compound matters, whenever anyone on screen moves, it’s shown in slow motion. The unsettling motion along with the limited lighting are hard to watch. The rest of The Bad Batch is filled with shots of the deserted wasteland. Much like the story, the film’s direction is all or nothing.
The Bad Batch sounds like it’ll be a fun watch: Wanderers fighting for survival in a desert wasteland has been the basis for many successful video game and movie franchises, after all. Regrettably, the movie somehow manages to be boring. It is a thirty-minute story stretched into a two-hour package. There is an enjoyable tale to be told here — The Bad Batch just refuses to tell it.