The title of “The Bad Batch,” Ana Lily Amirpour’s arid and feverish new movie, refers to the assorted undesirables who have been exiled by the U.S. government to a vast and barely habitable stretch of Texas wasteland. Under a merciless sun, a sullen new arrival named Arlen (the British actress
Arlen escapes, barely, and finds her way to a makeshift town of losers and drifters, noodle carts and shipping containers laughably known as Comfort. Ruled over by a self-styled messiah/drug dealer/harem-keeper known as the Dream (
Honey’s father is a towering slab of muscle named Miami Man, a reference to his Cuban expatriate roots that is helpfully tattooed across his impossibly bulked-up chest. He’s played by
The visual and sonic acumen of that film is also evident in "The Bad Batch," from its killer electronic soundtrack to the shimmering, sun-blasted widescreen images captured by the cinematographer Lyle Vincent. (Texas is played, sensationally, by the squatter community of Slab City, Calif.) The movie is a spellbinding physical object, a thing of ramshackle buildings and endless horizons, that begs to be seen on the big screen if at all.
But here Amirpour's stylistic flair must work overtime to fill the gaps in an increasingly patchy and wayward narrative. Pauses and longueurs can be effective, particularly in a setting where a measure of tedium comes with the wide-open terrain, but the deliberation of the pacing is not warranted by the film's thin, circuitous story.
Punctuating its long stretches of desert-wandering indolence with quick, brutal spasms of violence, "The Bad Batch" eventually coalesces around the tenuous bond that forms between Arlen, armed with a pistol and a prosthetic leg, and Miami Man, who's handy with a cleaver and other sharp objects. Their mission is to find and rescue Honey, a familiar if effective point of entry into an unflattering mirror on America, in all its pointless savagery, sexual exploitation, class oppression and rapacious capitalism run amok.
Yeah, I don’t entirely buy it, either. As a politically barbed fantasy, “The Bad Batch” is intriguing but facile; as a bid for cult-classic status, it’s strained and self-conscious (though it is fun to see Reeves pimping and
'The Bad Batch'
Rating: R, for violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: ArcLight Cinemas, Hollywood