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5 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Babylon A.D.
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Pretty Riddick-ulous"
2 stars

Arriving in town with some of the worst advance buzz in recent memory--reports of a troubled production were recently exacerbated when director Mathieu Kassovitz publicly disowned the film and blamed all of its failings on the heavy hand of distributor 20th Century Fox--and without any advance screenings on Labor Day weekend, a time when the studios traditionally dump their weakest and most misguided projects (you think it is just a coincidence that “Disaster Movie” is opening this weekend?) in the hopes of squeezing a couple of bucks out of them before turning their sights towards the upcoming Oscar derby, the new sci-fi epic “Babylon A.D.” is a film that is practically reeking with the unsavory perfume of unmitigated failure. And yet, as I sat there watching the first hour or so of the film before a fairly sparse Saturday night gathering people who seemed to have come out of some vague sense of obligation than out of any real interest, I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that it didn’t seem to be nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exactly great by any means but it was nowhere near the unmitigated disaster that seemed to be in the offing. After all, it had a relatively nifty look and a reasonably interesting cast and everyone once in a while, a neat image or idea would momentarily float onto the screen and offer additional tantalizing details into the film’s future world-gone-wrong. While I probably wouldn’t have gone so far as to actually recommending it to anyone at this point, maybe two-thirds of the way in, I might have at least deemed it to be an interesting failure and wondered why this movie, of all things, would be deemed such a disaster when there were so many other films currently in release deserving of such anti-accolades. Alas, it was just at this point when the film’s final third, for lack of a better term, lurched into gear and whatever minor enthusiasm I was able to work up quickly flew out the window thanks to one of the most ill-conceived and sloppily executed denouements to come along in a while, a stretch of moviemaking so lacking in coherence and competence that Ed Wood himself would have been embarrassed to have had his good name attached to the results.

Set in the not-too-distant future, a period of time far enough away that almost the entire world has plunged into economic chaos but close enough so that the clothes and cars aren’t that different and anti-heroes can still toss off tough-guy bon mots like “You need two things to survive in this world. You need your balls and your word,” “Babylon A.D.” stars Vin Diesel as Toorop, a mush-mouthed mercenary based in Central Asia who is willing to do anything for a buck in increasingly dystopian times. Through one of his underworld contacts, he is hired to transport Aurora ( Melanie Thierry), a mysterious young woman, and her ever-present nun overseer Sister Rebekah (Michelle Yeoh) from a remote convent in Mongolia to New York for reasons which are never explained to him. Inevitably, there are dangers along the way--Toorop is set upon by double-dealing colleagues and lethal drone planes and is even forced to rescue Aurora at one point from the clutches of a smitten cage fighter--and just as inevitably, the tough-talking mercenary begins to look at Aurora as something more than just another paycheck. However, at the time he is realizing this, he is also beginning to notice that there seems to be more than her than meets the eye--at one point, she begins operating a Russian submarine (don’t ask) that she has never before seen and later on, Rebekah informs Toorop that Aurora could speak in no less than 19 languages before the age of two. Eventually, we discover that Aurora is the daughter of a brilliant genetic scientist (Lambert Wilson) and the leader of a religious cult (Charlotte Rampling), that each one is awaiting her arrival in New York for their own special reasons and that each will stop at nothing to prevent her from falling into the others hands.

Although ostensibly based on the Maurice Dantec novel “Babylon Babies,” it quickly becomes apparent that “Babylon A.D.” has been designed to serve as an amalgamation of what I can only presume to be some of the highlights of Mathieu Kassovitz’s DVD collection, borrowing most heavily and obviously from “Children of Men,” “Blade Runner,” “The Fifth Element” (which he actually appeared in as the twitchy guy who tries robbing Bruce Willis early in the film), “Brazil,” “The Transporter” and, of all things, the infamous John Boorman oddity “Zardoz.” While the first hour or so of the film doesn’t come close to approximating the impact of any of those films, it isn’t half bad as a pastiche and Kassovitz actually does a better job of paying homage to his favorites than Neil Marshall did with that “Doomsday” boondoggle a few months ago. Sure, the story never really makes a lot of sense--we are just as confused as our hero even at the points when we are supposed to know more of what is going on than he does--and the pace is often too slow for its own good but in a weird sort of way, these potential pitfalls actually work in its favor by helping to transform it from just another bit of slam-bang action crap into the kind of trippy oddity that probably works best as a midnight movie for audiences whose haziness (be it from physical or chemical means) is weirdly in sync with the film’s. I also liked the visual style that Kassovitz and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast (a longtime collaborator of Luc Besson) brought to the material in putting forth their version of the future, aided immeasurably by such quirky touches as the relentless bombardment of advertising on any and all available surface (even a flight from Canada to the U.S. is sponsored by Coca Cola Zero). And while none of the actors here are working to anything close to their full potential, Diesel, Yeoh and Rampling have such intriguing personalities that the sight of them bouncing off of each other gives the material an added boost that it might not have had in more mundane hands. The only real weak link in the cast is Melanie Thierry as Aurora, the oh-so-pretty, oh-so-pretty vacant object of everyone’s attention--she looks beautiful enough but she has virtually no discernible acting ability or screen charisma and as a result, she comes across as the kind of barely walking, barely talking mannequin who actually seems more lifelike in a posed still photograph than she is in motion.

And yet, having accumulated this modest artistic capital (which is more than I can say for such lifeless schlockbusters as “Hancock” or “The Mummy: Whatever The Hell The Subtitle Said”), “Babylon A.D.” proceeds to squander ever single bit of it with a final half-hour containing some of the shabbiest filmmaking that I can recall seeing. For starters, the mystery of who or what Aurora is supposed to be and why all the various factions are trying to gain control of her is never answered in a coherent manner. At various times, it is suggested that she is either a genetically engineered superbabe, a potential new Messiah that will either save or destroy the world or the mother of a potential new Messiah that will either save or destroy the world but the film barely introduces these possibilities before simply abandoning them (along with at least one major character) in order to get to the big chase scene that is meant to serve as the slam-bang climax. Unfortunately, this entire sequence is so badly put together (the entire thing looks as if it was stitched together from footage retrieved from the cutting-room floor) and bereft of excitement (not only could Luc Besson have staged a more exciting sequence, I suspect that even Robert Bresson could have put together something with more visceral energy and style), I just assumed that it was a prelude for the real climax and didn’t realize that was it until the end credits abruptly began running a couple minutes later after the denouement. Then there is that denouement, an absolutely baffling bit of nonsense that tries to put a belated happy face on an otherwise bleak tale in such a graceless and dramatically clumsy manner that it makes the similar conclusions of the original version of “Blade Runner” and the studio recut of “Brazil” seem almost subtle and organic by comparison.

While watching “Babylon A.D.,” it is clearly evident that something went horribly wrong at some point early in its production and that no one involved was able to prevent things from slipping completely out of control. However, trying to figure out what happened and who was responsible for the film’s failings is a mystery almost as impenetrable as its last half-hour. Under normal circumstances, one might be inclined to think that this is another case in which an idiosyncratic European director has had his unique artistic vision trampled upon by a cold and uncaring studio--this particular notion is even easier to swallow when you consider that the studio in this case was Fox, whose output in the last couple of years (aside from “The Simpsons Movie”) has consisted almost entirely of low-grade junk lacking even a shred of artistic credibility. On the other hand, it is kind of hard for even the most dedicated auteurist to apply the misunderstood genius label to the guy whose previous film was the Halle Berry craptacular “Gothika” and it could easily be argued that Kassovitz stepped into a project that was simply too big for him and he quickly became overwhelmed as a result. Somewhere amidst the wreckage of “Babylon A.D.” is a potentially fascinating horror story of a big-budget blockbuster going horribly wrong and I can only hope that the full story eventually gets out at some time because I suspect that it would provide more genuine thrills and excitement than the movie itself.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17276&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/02/08 10:58:52
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User Comments

6/15/11 My apples are rotting Gets kind of a harsh time from critics. So-so but hardly horrible. 3 stars
7/07/09 mr.mike OK to watch on Cinemax. 3 stars
6/17/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Huh? Rug pulled out from under plot last fourty minutes makes no sense 1 stars
2/08/09 Grimlix Not quite a torrid as people said, but still mightily unbalanced and poorly edited 2 stars
1/10/09 yubbauk confusing weak script weak ending i left feeling thank god thats over. 1 stars
11/28/08 M Vin Diesel is so much better than THIS! 3 stars
10/30/08 Sisterhood Of The Raveling Pants Aurora an intriguing character but inadequately explained. Alive or dead at end of movie? 3 stars
10/30/08 Lenny Zane Lots of suspenseful buildup to.........essentialy no place to go. 3 stars
10/22/08 Erik This is the kind of movie that deserves one star only 1 stars
9/25/08 steve owen 'babble on a.d.d' should be the title 1 stars
9/14/08 hfm Moriazbane, my thoughts exactly, I was apalled when they faded to black after that scene 2 stars
9/12/08 A nice idea... ...terribly executed. Kassovitz should be able to do so much better!! 2 stars
9/05/08 andres danu ubaya teknik 2005 - mojoagung shitty thing!!! go to hell 1 stars
9/05/08 Moriazbane Uh..we are still waiting...maybe they showed the ending after the credits? 1 stars
8/31/08 james crap crap crap crap crap 1 stars
8/30/08 contrer No resolution to the story - leaves you hanging in the end or waiting for a sequel. 2 stars
8/29/08 Darkstar Rent "Children of Men" skip this piece of shit 1 stars
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  29-Aug-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2009

  29-Aug-2008 (12A)

  02-Oct-2008 (M)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2009

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