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BABYLON A.D.



STARRING: Vin Diesel, Gerard Depardieu, Michelle Yeoh, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Strong, Radek Bruna, Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson

2008, 90 Minutes, Directed by:
Mathieu Kassovitz


Babylon A.D. is unfortunately just as bad as one expected it would be . . .

Expectations for Babylon A.D. were never very high. First off it is a low-budget "European co-production" - never a good sign. Second, it stars Vin "my career isn't going anywhere right now" Diesel along with two faded French stars (Gerard Depardieu and Charlotte Rampling) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Michelle Yeoh. Third, it is based on an obscure book by an equally obscure French author (Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec). Then there's the "we're ripping Blade Runner off" promotional material featuring a future New York cityscape cribbed directly from Ridley Scott's 1982 classic - all giant neon ads and everything.

That isn't where the plagiarism ends though. The biggest problem is the script, which is made up of clichés pilfered from other movies, including a lame I don't stick my neck out for no-one" voice-over by everyone's favorite nightclub bouncer as action hero, Vin Diesel. The last spoken line of dialogue from the screenplay is "there's a storm coming!" Did the screenwriters believe that they were the only people who had ever seen The Terminator and would actually get away with it?

Anyway, it is the near future. The audience isn't let into much about this particular future (a major failing of the screenplay) except that things are definitely shittier than they are right now. For starters, much of Eastern Europe seems to have descended into chaos and civil war following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. (One would have said that this is so, well, 'Nineties - except that Russia invaded Georgia just the other day, so . . .)

Diesel plays a lone wolf mercenary named Toorop, which actually sounds more like the name of a Western hero's sidekick than anything else. Toorop is supposed to be an anti-hero with a tough exterior, but a soft interior. Only problem is that Diesel is rather unconvincing at this and wears his heart too much on his sleeve to convince the audience that he actually somehow managed to survive in the anarchic every-man-for- himself environment we meet him in at the beginning of the movie.

"The sort of thing that would have starred Rutger Hauer in his direct-to-video heyday . . ."

Toorop is given his clichéd last assignment - you know, the one that will let him escape his circumstances for good - by a shady warlord played by an overweight Depardieu. One can almost see this once acclaimed thesp trying to have some fun with his role, but the movie never really allows him to.

Toorop has to smuggle a young girl named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian Sister Rebeka (Yeoh) out of the former Soviet Union across the frozen tundras of Alaska and Canada into New York. However it seems that something is not right with the girl - she knows stuff she is not supposed to, like for instance, piloting a nuclear submarine. It is also hinted that she might somehow have superpowers, but this is never really spelt out.

Obviously there are other groups, including a religious cult led by the villainous Charlotte Rampling, who are interested in Aurora and want to kidnap the girl. The only thing is that Diesel and co. don't know whether these groups are actually the good or the bad guys.

The problem is that we in the audience don't know either . . .

The screenplay is in fact so underwritten that we never know exactly why Aurora is so important to the religious sect that is pursuing her. The only explanation we get is that Aurora is going to give virgin birth to a pair of twins. So what? With artificial insemination a virgin birth nowadays isn't exactly the big deal it was, let's say, two thousand years ago. For some reason the girl's pregnancy will turn the sect from a cult into a ?bona fide religion.? Whatever.

It is also hinted that Aurora is an artificial human ? a super smart computer in human form, but it is never explained why they just can't build another one again using the blue prints.

Babylon A.D. is an underwritten mess that never explains the future world it is set in, or any of the issues at stake. The screenplay is in fact so underwritten that it never even bothers with dispatching the main villain (Rampling) and has an underwhelming car chase as the film's climax while the film's best action sequence is stuck somewhere in the middle of the movie. The film's events have no gravitas because the audience simply don't know exactly why they should care about what is going on.

To makes things worse, the action sequences themselves are often just as confusing and muddled as the plot itself. Devoid of anything so much as a hint of suspense, the best thing about Babylon A.D. is its surprisingly elaborate (for such a low-budget affair, that is) production designs. It is at its best with its portrayals of social decay, its scenes of  huge crowds milling around aimlessly in chaotic open air markets and the like.

Ultimately Babylon A.D. is the sort of thing that would have starred either Christopher Lambert or Rutger Hauer in their straight-to-video heyday years ago. But one supposes that they are either too old or too overweight nowadays. (Hauer - like Steven Seagal - spent much of his movie career dressed in a long black coat designed to disguise his bulging midriff!) So they got Vin Diesel instead.

Diesel promisingly kicked his career off with the lean muscular sci-fi thriller Pitch Black eight years ago, but the interim years haven't been kind to him. He now seems destined for straight-to-DVD releases because that is exactly what Babylon A.D. is: something that should have headed straight for the video shop shelves instead of making a stopover in cinemas first . . .
 

 


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