A disheveled and incoherent jumble, “Babylon A.D.” sadly loses the few bits of intriguing groundwork it lays amidst a cacophony of mangled editing, lethargic performances, and an utterly unfocused and often contradictory narrative.
One could easily dismiss it for using a dystopian story that’s been done many a time before by films slightly worse (“Ultraviolet”) and immensely better (“Children of Men”). However, French director Mathieu Kassovitz at least has proven himself an interesting helmer in the past which gives ‘Babylon’ some strong workman-like visuals. Added to this are moments exploring the issues of overpopulation, the erosion of borders in the former Soviet states, the zealotry of modern religion, and plain old corporate fascism.
Unfortunately these intriguing slivers are probably the only thing from the acclaimed novel “Babylon Babies” that has survived the translation to the big screen with any clarity. The main thrust is anything but straightforward as the story, best described as an Orwellian-take on “The Transporter”, mutates into a barely understandable mish-mash of sci-fi shenanigans, inconsolable revelations and repetitive gun battles that make little to no sense.
Characters seemingly die only to come back to life, a revelation about virgin birth comes straight out of nowhere and yields an utterly laughable ending, there’s some sidetrips dealing with the idea of clones with artificial intelligence, and some throwaway spiritual nonsense about death and rebirth. Ultimately any message it is trying to say is lost amidst the all too somber, self-serious tones and painful dialogue.
Kassovitz showed great promise with some of his earlier features like “La Haine” and “The Crimson Rivers”, he even managed to give schlock Halle Berry horror vehicle “Gothika” a quite interesting edge. Yet this, the most expensive and ambitious production he’s mounted yet, is far less cohesive or atmospheric. There’s some noble but implausible attempts to give the story a sense of reality, time that should’ve been spent shoring up the one-note characters.
Vin Diesel is usually a reliable enough action hero even in bad material, but here he doesn’t seem particularly enthused or convincing in the role of a monotone reluctant antihero who finds redemption. Melanie Thierry and Michelle Yeoh are stuck with very little to do, the former seemingly trying to recreate Milla Jovovich’s more more energetic “Fifth Element” work while the later at least gives one role in the film some conviction. Short work by Lambert Wilson and Gerard Depardieu in useless prosthetics are a wash, though Charlotte Rampling as a corrupt female religious leader has fun with her scant few scenes.
Too many cuts and close-ups make the well-conceived but poorly executed and generally perfunctory action scenes come off a disappointment. Some scenes still work such as a bombing at a train station and some parkour in a Vladivostok nightclub. Similarly effective are two sequences involving scrambling survivors climbing a Russian submarine, and later a snowmobile chase across the frozen Bering Strait. All are ambitious in their ideals but come off as ultimately useless to a story that is in desperate need of some TLC in other areas.
In the week prior to its release, Kassovitz famously came out against his own movie and Fox’s treatment of it – cutting 10-15 minutes out for its American release. It’s hard to say how much of an impact those cuts have had, they’re certainly felt but one gets the distinct impression that even ten minutes of brilliant work can not save this movie. Noble intentions aside, Kassovitz delivers some solid moments that survive both this failed adaptation and Fox’s further harsh mutilations. They’re just not organised or lucid enough to crawl out from under the wasted excess of dreary cliches that sink this like a stone.