Writer-director Jake Paltrow’s dystopian potboiler “Young Ones” starts with a lip-licking premise: As a catastrophic global water shortage creates a barren globe, it also spurs a new, wild, untamed West.
In this parched, resource-scarce near-future of a backdrop, Paltrow replants the tragic western: Lonely husband and father Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon), a supplier for desert-camp “watermen,” dreams of once more cultivating his outpost of land and keeping his restless daughter (Elle Fanning) from an ambitious businessman’s son, Flem (Nicholas Hoult).
But as “Young Ones” segues into a tale of generational revenge, led by Ernest’s adoring, naif-ish son Jerome (Kodi Smit McPhee), the movie’s scattershot mix of styles iconic and ironic — think Sergio Leone filtered through Wes Anderson — proves fatefully problematic, in that your desire to care is rarely fed.
Paltrow’s kitchen-sink visual sense may keep your eyes engaged, but it sucks dry any inherent drama, leaving you with a bunch of characters who feel pegged by a conjurer rather than nurtured from a wretched new Earth.
MPAA rating: R for violence, language.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.