I've seen a lot of bad movies in my short time on planet Earth. I know the unique purgatory of humoring my young niece as she demands to watch the likes of 2007's Underdog and I, like you, have spent lazy Sunday afternoons indulging in the indistinguishable works of Steven Segal. But while these are all truly terrible movies, I can walk away from them with an understanding that they serve some sort of purpose outside of being good cinema. Kid's movies are designed to distract, action movies to indulge the part of the brain that likes watching people get kicked in the head without triggering the part that abhors real-life violence. In fact, most bad movies can be dismissed for one reason or another. That's why watching Percy Adlon's 1987 film Bagdad Cafe was such a unique experience. It was a bad movie in every sense of the word with absolutely no other purpose that might excuse its badness.
Before I get into why exactly I hated Bagdad Cafe, I have to admit that I may be in the minority here. The movie took home a long list of awards, even grabbing an Oscar nod for one of its original songs. Even in my own personal circle I stand alone in my feelings about this movie. I watched Bagdad Cafe on an otherwise good night in a respectable group of people, but I was the only one who didn't enjoy it. I'm also no stranger to weird movies. I actually love surreal, oblique stories and odd characters, but for some reason Bagdad Cafe was excruciating for me.
My first beef with Bagdad Cafe is the acting. I couldn't get over the feeling that I was being forced to sit through a painful exhibition by a go-nowhere community theater group. It's not that the cast is inherently untalented. CCH Pounder and Jack Palance have both done work that I can appreciate, but the direction in this film seems so tone deaf that not even the best actors in the world could deliver their lines like professionals.
The biggest problem in Bagdad Cafe, though, is the writing itself. The story involves the blandly kooky people who find their way to a remote diner/motel in the middle of the Mojave desert, then never really builds beyond that. The characters are so wantonly unusual that they stop short of being cartoons and take a hard turn into unimaginative silliness. For a similar effect, see the embarrassingly ambitious North Fork by the Polish Brothers. Weird for the sake of weird never works out.
Bagdad Cafe also has the drowsy pace of celluloid Valium. Few of the events in the quasi-story actually relate to one another and whole elements of the plot disappear without reason or ceremony. The movie meanders from one boring set piece to the next, saying absolutely nothing along the way. As the film progresses it introduces an element of egregiously adorable magic and ends on empty sentimentality, which is only a slight improvement from its grating, stereotype-laden first act.
For some reason, Bagdad Cafe got picked up as a television series in 1990, dying an unmourned death before the first season could even try to confuse us with more silly musical numbers.
Still, I don't regret watching Bagdad Cafe as I have regretted watching the scads of horrible movies I've seen in my life. To see a film with no redeemable qualities is a unique experience and now I have a metric against which I can measure every other movie I ever watch. Sure, The X-Files: I Want To Believe was a bad movie, maybe the worst movie I saw the year it came out, but it wasn't as bad as Bagdad Cafe.