Frantz Fanon begins his book The Wretched of the Earth by explaining the violence endemic to decolonization and how a “new man” is created through such processes of liberation. The new man of Patch Town, an abysmal would-be satire of Western consumerist desire, is Jon (Rob Ramsay), a portly assembly-line worker in a dystopian realm where fetuses are harvested from heads of cabbage and sold for profit. Fanon’s notions are relevant to Jon, who learns that he’s actually a doll, a discarded toy that’s been groomed by a fascistic foreman named Child Catcher (Julian Richings) and grown into an adult-sized shell resembling a human. Thus, once made conscious of his state of being, Jon, with the assistance of Sly (Suresh John), a street peddler, sets out to find his mother, Bethany (Zoie Palmer), while posing as a Santa Claus and squatting in a tenement of the inner city. There are also several musical numbers.
Patch Town gives new meaning to “everything but the kitchen sink,” as director Craig Goodwill has adapted his award-winning short film into a feature that wishes to position itself within nearly every genre of cinema imaginable. Elements of gothic horror blend into a prison-escape actioner replete with ham-fisted comedic caricatures that meet melodramatic ends. Yet nearly every aspect of Goodwill’s tapestry is wholly misconceived, especially when attempting to weld ethnic stereotyping to formations of political heft. When Jon and his wife, Mary (Stephanie Pitsiladis), arrive at their hideout, hip-hop blares from adjacent abodes, with a gunshot capping an initial tour of the apartment. Were Goodwill truly invested in postcolonial disenfranchisement, he wouldn’t ghettoize rap music by making it the punchline for a cheap, unearned laugh. If Patch Town commences from Orwellian yearnings, it quickly comes to resemble a MadTV sketch extended to feature length.
That includes Jon morphing into a schlubby buffoon; whether having him consume candy spiked with drugs or make odd proclamations about random people’s character traits, the film derives its template more from Elf than Brazil. Yet even recalling these films runs afoul, since Patch Town lacks a basic coherence that even bad films often possess. It’s not that Goodwill can’t quite get the balance between serious and goofy right, but that the film, in its entirety, has no originary terms. The opening exposition dump, which explains the goals of a toy manufacturer, models itself somewhere between an instructional video and soviet propaganda. As to precisely what this is meant to critique or invoke is neither clear nor lingered upon, as Goodwill shuttles the film onto incoherent scenes of assembly-line fetus extractions and slave-like imprisonments.
On paper, Patch Town could read like a gonzo dash of carnivalesque madness, struck from an über-postmodern interest in cultural potpourri, with high politics, ethnic stereotypes, and musical numbers mashed into a newly percipient sensibility. That’s the kind of comedic terrain a film like Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie finds itself in by dissolving scatological humor into a narrative of utterly excessive, capitalistic absurdity. A similar outcome could have been possible here were Goodwill capable of micromanaging on a scene-to-scene level, where the aesthetically disparate pieces are clearly articulated in juxtaposition to one another. But the filmmakers refuse such aims, making Sly simply a wisecracking swindler and Kenny (Ken Hall), a little-person henchman, the butt of a joke in a fight with a young child. Patch Town finally displays a degraded cultural sensitivity that makes something as wretched as The Love Guru seem learned.