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Dustin Putman

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Babylon A.D.  (2008)
1 Star
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz.
Cast: Vin Diesel, Melanie Thierry, Michelle Yeoh, Lambert Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Gerard Depardieu, Mark Strong, Jerome Le Banner, Joel Kirby.
2008 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language and some sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 30, 2008.
Impassioned writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz (2003's "Gothika") publicly released a statement days before the U.S. release of "Babylon A.D." saying, in a nutshell, that his own film was crap and his original vision for the project was ruined by the powers-that-be at 20th Century Fox. A brave, possibly foolish thing to do, but at least Kassovitz is willing to speak his mind and be honest. And honest he is, as "Babylon A.D." is every bit the low-grade misfire that Kassovitz described. A science-fiction film that demands an epic treatment but instead rings in at a head-scratching 90 minutes, the movie feels rushed and sloppy, as if the budget was never adequately raised, the script (adapted from the novel "Babylon Babies" by Maurice G. Dantec) never fully developed or thought out, and the post-production editing severed with a serrated knife.

The story doesn't make sense. Would a director's cut be able to fill in all of the holes? From what can be deciphered, Vin Diesel (2005's "The Pacifier") stars as Toorop, a gun-for-hire living in near-future New Serbia. When he is called upon to escort a young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her nun protector Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) to New York City, he accepts the dangerous mission without realizing that it may cost him his life. The secret Aurora is holding inside her is something that everyone wants, it seems, and something that they're willing to do whatever necessary to possess.

If 2006's visionary, brilliant "Children of Men" had gone horribly wrong, it might have looked a lot like "Babylon A.D." Undernourished to the point of confusion, the film is too talky to satisfy action seekers, and what action there is has been poorly covered by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast (2004's "Catwoman") and editor Benjamin Weill so that it is more aimlessly frenetic than cohesive. A car chase, for example, goes from a mountain road to a long train-tracked bridge to a tunnel in a span of about five second-long shots. Another set-piece, this one set across the Bering Strait on snowmobiles, is sorely botched because of its lack of rhythm and the filmmakers' ill-equipped knowledge of mise en scene. Dialogue is frequently (and unintentionally) funny, as when Aurora portentously announces to Toorop and Sister Rebeka, "We're all gonna die in New York," and follows it up, naturally, with a cheerful "Good night!"

Who is Toorop? Why is he the one to be sought out for the job of taking Aurora across continents? Aside from a brief mention that his family had a farm in upstate New York, he is given no history or sense of life outside of the film's camera frames. Why do some people want Aurora to make it to Manhattan, while others are chasing them the whole way? How far into the future is it, and why do some landscapes look post-apocalyptic while others just look like stylized versions of their current selves? Why introduce a romantic subplot between Toorop and Aurora only to hastily drop it? Once Aurora reaches her destination, what does anyone hope to accomplish? The questions that are brought up and not answered could go on and on. Suffice it to say, "Babylon A.D." isn't exactly airtight in its plotting.

Vin Diesel has it in him to be a good actor—better than some people give him credit for, anyway—so it is with particular dismay seeing his career crash and burn as it has in recent years. He gives a workmanlike performance as Toorop, but doesn't exactly strain the boundaries of the macho, vaguely aloof roles he commonly plays. As Aurora, English-language newcomer Melanie Thierry has a calm, ethereal quality that suits the part, as thinly drawn as it may be. As the wise Sister Rebeka, Michelle Yeoh (2008's "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor") continues her astonishing ability to keep her dignity in terrible movies, while Charlotte Rampling (2008's "Deception") doesn't quite know what the hell she's doing here as the High Priestess.

A few eye-popping images escape the wrath of heinous editing, including a wide shot of a car being carried overtop the landscape by helicopter, and a montage of neat visuals of a futuristic New York City. These intermittent sights are all that "Babylon A.D." has going for it. The film is a lost cause, perplexed by what it wants to say, how it wants to say it, and why. Whether the fault lies with a script crying out for further drafts before shooting commenced, or a cheap studio shutting off its established director's flow of creativity in order to save a buck and condescend to American audiences, the dubious result remains the same. "Babylon A.D." is a mess.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman