Babylon A.D. Review – Violent? Not Really. Stupid? Absolutely” width=”560″/>
Babylon AD arrives on a wave of hype and publicity, almost none of it good and most of it the result of director Mathieu Kassovitz’s interview on this very blog in which he complained about the treatment his movie has received at the hands of Fox, its distributor. He was upset that 15 minutes had been trimmed, he was angry about the studio tampering with his film and he dismissed the finished product as being nothing but “violence and stupidity” as a result. Now that the movie is actually in theaters, what’s the verdict? I think he’s being unfair about the violence, but as for the stupidity, he’s right on. This one’s got it in spades.
Based on a 700 page cult scifi novel called Babylon Babies, the movie starts out by reminding us that its starring character is a mercenary and an anti-hero. He’s tough. He’s scarred and tattooed. He speaks like someone who recently had throat surgery. He’s played by Vin Diesel, who spends most of the movie indicating his rebellious nature by doing things like wearing two bulky jackets at once, growling threats at people instead of speaking to them, and pointing his gun at people while spewing pithy dialogue. Because we’ve seen this kind of behavior in a dozen different movies over the last year, it’s about as threatening as watching a baby bear fall off a slide, but leave it to Diesel to up the ante by sporting the world’s most anti-social habit: He smokes cigarettes. This guy is kuh-razy!
Diesel is hired by a Russian mobster to transport a young, virginal
girl named Aurora and her chaperone — played by Hong Kong actress
Michelle Yeoh — from their secluded monastery in Eastern Europe to New
York City. Along the way there are fights in night clubs, snowmobile
chases, passports injected into necks, rocket launchers and a
retread of the motocross stunts we all saw back when Diesel did XXX . The performances don’t fare much better. Diesel performs
about like you’d expect — he’s such a known quantity he might as well
be packaged and sold in supermarkets — and Michelle Yeoh manages to keep
her dignity intact. But Melanie Thierry, playing Aurora is something
else. Aurora has enormous blue eyes, high cheekbones, a breathless
voice and the ability to psychically feel the emotions of those around
her, all of which makes her incredibly annoying. The audience trembles
in anticipation every time her life is in danger, so eager are they to
see her get it in the neck. Between clutching her head and moaning
about “The pain! The death!” and making goo-goo eyes at people like
some kind of coked-up supermodel, this girl is so full of actorly
affectations and self-conscious preening that she’s bound to do
something to annoy each and every person in the theater.
But the question remains: did Fox ruin a potential science fiction
masterpiece? Unfortunately, everything that makes this movie bad can
pretty much be laid at the feet of its director, Mathieu Kassovitz. Despite its huge budget, Babylon A.D. feels
threadbare and half-baked throughout. There are plotlines involving
wars between religious groups, vague references to genetic engineering,
and something about human smuggling, but it all goes by in a blur of
nonsensical conversations and badly staged action scenes — sort of
like Children of Men with a lobotomy. Not even the visuals are worthwhile, with the future New York City looking like unused Blade Runner concept art, and the menacing street gangs looking like they escaped from Escape from New York .
If you actually manage to make it through to the final scene, you’ll suddenly realize why Fox so tampered with
this movie. After all the bad digital effects, all the poor dialogue
and earnest over-acting you arrive at a conclusion that’s totally corny: Why can’t we just get along? You can easily imagine the hapless Fox executives sitting in the screening room wanting to pull the plug.