J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Patch Town: Dystopian Doll People

It will confirm the suspicions of parents who survived the Cabbage Patch riots of the early 1980s to learn those dolls were part of an evil scheme. Technically, these moppets are not called “Cabbage Patch Kids,” but the resemblance is striking. In all fairness, said dolls are all sweetness and innocence, but they come from a sinister factory. They are also flesh-and-blood, most of the time. One such doll will try to escape his evil overlord in Craig Goodwill’s self-consciously strange Patch Town (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Once upon a time, so to speak, Gregor, a well-meaning but short-sighted Russian inventor discovered there were real babies growing in his cabbage patch. He tried to adopt each and every one of them, causing considerable resentment with his biological son Yuri, but the volume was too great for him. Logically, he invented a machine that temporarily transformed the babies into dolls that were subsequently sent out into the world until they can be safely reclaimed. Tragically, Gregor soon dies, leaving the leaf babies entrusted to the cruel Yuri (a.k.a. Child Catcher). Yuri does indeed retrieve the dolls as the little girls they were entrusted to grow and forget about childish things, forcing the re-animated cherubs to toil in his Orwellian doll factory.

Jon and Mary are two such doll prols. They are timid by nature, yet they still managed to adopt a little baby girl, in clear violation of Patch Town law, because they are so full of love. When Yuri ominously sniffs them out, the terrified new parents have to make a break for our world. During the escape coordinated by Sly, the dodgy people trafficker and part-time department store Santa’s elf, Jon’s repressed memories come flooding back. He becomes convinced Bethany, the little girl he knew as his “mother” can help if he can find her.

So yeah, Patch Town sounds like a cult film to beat the band, which is why it is so annoying that it never takes flight. Did we mention it is also a musical? It sort of is, but you will be hard-pressed to remember any of the tunes. The film apparently assumes the very fact that they are there is enough. Goodwill’s screenplay, co-written with Christopher Bond and Trevor Martin is even more problematic. Despite the strange universe they create, the narrative follows a disappointingly predictable pattern, with learning moments inserted in exactly the spots screenwriting handbooks say they should go.

With their rosy cheeks, Rob Ramsey and Stephanie Pltiladis look perfect as Jon and Mary, but they are wilting roses on the screen. As Yuri (and Gregor), Julian Richings looks like he is trying to bulge his eyes so far out, he might have a stroke at any time. At least Zoie Palmer stays grounded and shows a respectable range as Jon’s grown mother, Bethany. Still, Suresh John’s Sly is the real saving grace, cutting through the film’s self-seriousness and heavy-handed messaging with tartly delivered sarcasm.

Patch Town is definitely a kitchen sink movie, but somehow Goodwill forgot to cram in the fun. The design team created an impressive looking dystopian urban fantasy world, but the confused anti-corporate soapboxing and blatant manipulation grow tiresome. It is the sort of film that looks so promising cult cinema connoisseurs will still want to judge it for themselves when it opens tomorrow (6/5) in New York, at the Cinema Village (but We Are Still Here should be a much higher priority).

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