If the word ‘lurid’ didn’t already appear on page 489 of my Oxford English Dictionary it might have been coined to describe “The Bad Batch,” a new slice of misery from director Ana Lily Amirpour. This dystopian cannibal freak out isn’t really very good but if Amirpour’s intention was to make an unpleasant, slackly paced look at life after a calamity, she has succeeded spectacularly.
Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is part of the Bad Batch, a large group of murderers, drug dealers and other deplorables no longer wanted in the United States. In Amirpour’s post apocalyptic world the unwanted are numbered, tattooed, escorted to a wasteland in Texas and dropped off outside of an electric fence to fend for themselves. Arlen’s new, dusty world is a wasteland, a dangerous place where Keanu Reeves is a Jim Jones figure called The Dream and if you’re not careful you might end up as a main course for the cannibals who now eat humans to survive.
Soon she is kidnapped, carved up, her arm and leg becoming an entrée for vicious flesh eaters who keep her in chains until she escapes with the help of a gnarly old hermit played by Jim Carrey. She lands at Comfort, the ironically named compound run by cult leader The Dream. On the outskirts of Comfort Arlen exacts revenge on one of the cannibals who turned her into a midday snack. Grabbing the woman’s child she returns to the compound. When the little girl disappears her father, the mountainous and muscly Miami Man (Jason Momoa), comes looking for her. Arlene, high on acid, meets him and the two form an unlikely bond as they search for his daughter.
Amirpour is a gifted director—her “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is like no other vampire movie—but her ideas here echo a little too loudly with reverberations from “Mad Max” and other dystopian movies. “The Bad Batch” starts strong with startling images but every time it works up a head of steam it veers off track. Its languid pace and stretched-out story makes the two-hour running time feel much longer.
It’s Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn in over-the-top-mode) has taken over the city—there’s brothels, booze and bad news all over. “I’m building a new city out of the ruins of Los Angeles,” says Cohen.
Corruption is the name of the game for everyone except Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a honest cop in a crooked town. When LAPD Chief William Henry Parker (Nick Nolte) asks him to create a special undercover team to bring Cohen and his thugs to justice, O’Mara assembles the Gangster Squad, a group of cops who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
“The Gangster Squad” will likely suffer from the inevitable comparisons to “The Untouchables” and “LA Confidential.” It grabs the atmosphere of post war LA from the latter and the storyline, almost beat for beat, from the former. There’s even a shoot out on a stairway, but this is a far more blunt object than either of it’s forbearers. In the first twenty minutes people are drawn and quartered, incinerated—apparently Cohen prefers medieval techniques—and there’s a vicious fistfight. Then it gets violent.
The film is possibly best known, not for its cast, which also includes Ryan Gostling, Emma Stone, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi, but as the movie pulled from release following the Aurora, Colorado Century 13 massacre. Originally featuring a scene of gangsters randomly firing into a movie theatre, it was deemed inappropriate for release at the time. I’m not sure what they have replaced that scene with, but trust me, its removal hasn’t made the film any less violent in tone.
It’s a gorgeous looking film, with a pretty picture of LA’s glamorous nightlife and features dialogue by Will Beall who has clearly spent some time watching Raymond Chandler movies like “The Big Sleep.” Lines like “The whole city is underwater and you’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit,” have more finesse than the story as a whole.
“The gangster Squad” is a period piece that spends a bit too much time exploring the down-and-dirty side of the story, but is an stylish look at a violent time.
Somewhere in Hollywood there is a very usual script. I say usual because it doesn’t look like all the other scripts that get made into movies every year. This one looks more like the “fill-in-the-blanks” game that you used to play as a kid.
The first line probably looks like this:
A beautiful / handsome ____________, played by _____________, risks his / her life to investigate a ___________’s murder.
Fill in the blanks anyway you like, and presto! you have a standard “Mad Libs” thriller that will make a few bucks at the multi-plex on opening weekend before heading straight to the DVD bargain bin.
Ashley Judd used to make a lot of these kinds of fill-in-the-blanks thrillers. Remember Double Jeopardy? Eye of the Beholder? No, neither do I, and that’s because they are so generic they make almost no impression on the viewer. Such is the problem with the Perfect Stranger, a new that seems to have borrowed the “Mad Libs” crime drama script template.
In Perfect Stranger a beautiful reporter, played by Halle Berry, risks her life to investigate a friend’s murder. So far, so standard. The addition of a couple of quirky characters should spice things up a bit, yes? Well, no. Giovanni Ribisi as a wacky computer genius and Bruce Willis as a two-timing advertising executive are both so by-the-book even the receptionist at Central Casting would think they were old hat.
There are plot twists a plenty, (no, Balki isn’t the killer, that was Perfect Strangers), but they feel like contrivances created by a desperate screenwriter rather than events that grew organically from the story. The twists and turns aren’t interesting, and when it is time for someone to go to jail (I won’t say who just in case you decide to throw your money away on this one) the evidence against them is so thin it wouldn’t even warrant a slap on the wrist at the People’s Court.
Perfect Stranger promises much, but delivers little. It’s a total _________ of _________.