Babylon A.D.

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 08/31/08 15:34:41

"Okay, what did I just watch, and who thought it was ready to release?"
1 stars (Sucks)

There’s not much I can do about "Babylon A.D." except to advise you not to see it until there’s an uncut DVD, if even then.

Anyone who cares about this Euro-scented, nonsensical movie has heard by now that it’s a mess, and that the blame should not be laid at the feet of star Vin Diesel or director Matthieu Kassovitz. Regardless, the version that’s in theaters is the version that the meddling studio, 20th Century-Fox, expects you to pay to see. As it stands, watching it is like trying to take in a late-night double feature of The Fifth Element and Children of Men while nodding off every ten minutes.

The film begins promisingly: disgruntled mercenary Toorop (Diesel) slouching through a rainy gun marketplace and clobbering some poor sap who sold him a bum weapon. We’re in The Future, Sometime, and Toorop gets tapped to escort mysterious young woman Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) to America along with her protector, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh). Why? Aurora is carrying something in her body; it could be the salvation or the doom of mankind. Based (loosely, I suspect) on a French sci-fi novel, the film takes the trio all over the globe without seeming to move. Bad men are after them, commanded by someone named the High Priestess, played by Charlotte Rampling, who has played high priestesses one way or another throughout her career and finally gets to be one officially. Her scene with Gerard Depardieu, though brief and conducted via video screens, will be good news for fans of art-house fare; it seems impossible, though, that this is indeed the first film in which both have appeared.

Word around the campfire is that Fox ordered Babylon A.D. trimmed by fifteen minutes to avoid an R rating. Who recut it, Stevie Wonder? The action sequences set a new standard for incoherence — at no point do we understand or even clearly see what’s happening, a disappointment for Michelle Yeoh fans looking forward to watching her show her stuff. It would take a committee of devout logicians to make sense of what’s left of the plot; much more than fifteen minutes seem to be missing, since the film proceeds in an almost non-sequitur fashion. (And people say David Lynch movies are confusing?) The annoyed director has complained in the press about what the studio did to his baby, though his name is still on the film and, one assumes, his paycheck.

The suspicion arises that "Babylon A.D." was never going to make much sense or to be much good. Matthieu Kassovitz is on record, but I’d like to hear from his credited cowriters, Eric Besnard and Joseph Simas, or from one of the many executive producers. I’d like to read the panicked memos written when the film reportedly went well north of its budget and its schedule. I’d like to see the international cut, which supposedly runs 101 minutes. Mostly, I’d like my 90 minutes back.

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