Riot Girls, written by Katherine Collins and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, is a new heavily-stylized post-apocalyptic action-comedy. Although it hopes to be Mad Max by way of a high school comedy, the energy of the film is ultimately too overwhelming for it to be particularly effective.
The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic 1995 in which a deadly virus has wiped out the entire adult population and a town is divided into two rival gangs of teenagers who are constantly at war. Even though this world is certainly intriguing, the film does not do enough to build the mythology of the individual groups. Since the movie is under an hour and a half long, the film could have spared to introduce us into the world in a deeper and more interesting way.
However, even with more world-building, the movie would have faltered because of its generic plot. The story of the film is a pretty standard rescue mission, akin to quite a few other post-apocalyptic movies of this nature. As such, the film feels annoyingly unoriginal, particularly because the movie does so little to make itself stand out.
The only visible attempt at making the film feel unique comes with the dark comedy, although even this is largely a failure. There are a few moments that are chuckle-worthy here and there, but for the most part, the movie is rather joyless and bland. Even more frustrating is that the film repeats these few successful gags over and over again until one almost wishes the characters were bashing in their heads.
Perhaps with some additional character development, the movie would have been more effective. The foundations for interesting character dynamics are there — they simply aren’t developed. For example, the relationship between the two leads is compelling and a unique twist on a trope common to the genre. Sadly, this part of the film feels more like an afterthought than a focus, preventing it from adding any real substance to the story.
The actors also try to give solid performances, although they are dragged down by the weak material. Madison Iseman and Paloma Kwiatkowski have great chemistry together and are, quite frankly, the only reason that this movie is worth watching. Iseman and Kwiatkowski both have a very natural screen presence and are able to deliver the lines, particularly the wittier ones, with ease. It’s a shame that they aren’t given more to do.
On a technical level, the film is so energetic that it becomes overwhelming. Although the movie can’t be faulted for lack of ambition, that ambition never pays off. Instead, the film feels like the unholy child of multiple different styles, from steampunk to retro to comic book. Because of this major identity crisis, the movie is not particularly pleasant to look at, and as such, becomes even less fun.
Riot Girls had a lot of potential, but it was wasted on a bland script and over-the-top execution. Unfortunately, this film will likely only appeal to a teen audience, many of whom won’t be old enough to buy a ticket because of the graphic violence it contains.
Riot Girls hits theaters and VOD on September 13.