The “so bad it’s good” phenomenon has been a part of film culture for decades. As soon as the rules of film grammar were established, audiences were laughing at the films that seemed to break them. Shoddy craftsmanship, unnatural acting, bizarre dialogue and nonsensical plots, all of them treated as hilarious mistakes. The problem with this perspective is that it precludes the possibility of intentional rule-breaking. The premise of “so bad it’s good” cinema requires the belief that these rules exist for a reason. For me, a rule is only as good as how broken it can be. So I have an instinctive sympathy for films that are treated this way. Many of my favorite films are widely derided for not hewing closely to established cinematic laws. Oftentimes, that’s precisely why I love them so much.
But most bad films aren’t secretly good. Most bad films aren’t even hilariously bad. By and large, bad films are boring. They offer nothing of interest even in their failures. Ryan’s Babe is such a film. It’s so totally devoid of anything worth discussing that I watched it wondering what the hell I was going to come up with for this piece.
If there’s one thing of genuine curiosity in Ryan’s Babe, it’s how its narrative takes the shape of one genre and the details of another. This is ostensibly a wacky road movie, with the eponymous main character on a long, aimless journey wherein he meets several strange characters and escapes stranger scenarios. It’s the structure of a broad comedy (the film’s poster sells it as an irreverent sex romp) but Ryan’s Babe isn’t trying to be funny. The stops Ryan takes along the way owe more to various crime melodramas than any comedy. It doesn’t even open on Ryan at all, but with a Senator’s daughter running from the murder of her mother and shooting of her bodyguard. A decent setup, all things considered. Sure, the acting is stilted and the fake blood is too watery, but I’ve seen worse genre execution.
Then she runs into Ryan, and the film slides into an extended flashback establishing who Ryan is, what his relationships are like, and how he got to this point. The woman leaves the movie shortly thereafter, all of a sudden becoming an introductory vignette rather than an actual narrative. It’s utterly bewildering, a case study in how bad sequence editing can be.
Sadly, that’s about the extent of my interest in Ryan’s Babe. The film peters out pretty quickly. Its 90 minutes feel twice as long. By minute 40 I was struggling to pay attention. There’s just not much to think about with regard to this film. It’s bad in a familiar way, the kind of everyday bad that exists by the thousands.