- Mathieu Kassovitz
- Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Strong, Lambert Wilson
- 90 min.
- Release Date
Babylon A.D. is what happens when you have a star that can’t project emotion, a director artistically hampered by the studio, and a story that feels all too familiar in the genre. Based on the novel Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec, the improved title is the film’s one benefit. The year is 2019. A mercenary named Toorop (Vin Diesel) lives in a dystopian future where product placements are abundant, passports are injected into your neck, and everywhere you look camouflaged soldiers carry machine guns. He’s hired by seedy crimelord Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) to escort a young girl named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her caretaker Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) from a Mongolian convent to New York City. Hunted by goons working for a religious Priestess (Charlotte Rampling) with no doubt suspicious intentions, Aurora, sheltered all her life, finds herself exposed to all manner of worldly stimuli, not the least of which is an affection for her roughneck guide.
Speaking exclusively in badass clichés like “Only the strong survive,” and “No mercy for the weak,” Toorop is a composite of many Diesel characters: a gruff-voiced, thickheaded, violent hero who’s too macho to express feelings, even if the script calls for it. Diesel’s career could have flourished after a lucky break in Saving Private Ryan, but instead, he chose mindless action fodder like A Man Apart and The Chronicles of Riddick. And there’s no blaming his agent for such poor choices either, as Diesel himself was producer on those cinematic a-bombs. This unfortunate bit of casting doesn’t single-handedly ruin the movie by any means. Problems seem to erupt during every scene. But I can imagine another actor, one whose voice doesn’t compare to sounds of a tractor pull, making the end product at least tolerable.
I feel a great sense of sympathy and regret for director Mathieu Kassovitz’s career as well. Having made a wowing debut with the brilliant, politically-charged French drama La Haine (meaning Hate) in 1995, he’s struggled to cope with Americanization. After helming Gothika, he should have learned his lesson. Studio heads at Fox reportedly took over in post-production, trying to make Babylon A.D. more “audience friendly” (two of the scariest words for any director to hear). Kassovitz recently explained in an interview with AMC, “I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience.”
Envisioning scenes from Babylon A.D. with another actor, Kassovitz in full creative control, and possibly even in French, the thought doesn’t seem so bad. The hokey dialogue might be obscured by the elegance of the French language. An everyman actor would be a welcomed substitute for Diesel’s robotic acting. Those occasionally impressive visuals might be put to better use with Kassovitz making the cuts. These are What Ifs, however. It’s too late to change what’s already been done. Let’s get back to the sad reality of this film…
Traveling six thousand miles across locations in Russia, the Bering Straight, into Canada, and ending up in NYC, Toorop and his human cargo engage in a number of pointless battles. The journey is a bland one until the finale, where the glitzy, neon-crazed architecture of the future’s Big Apple recalls scenes from Blade Runner. Indeed, the whole movie, from its premise to its direction, takes from better dystopian sci-fi pictures: That Aurora has some intuitive and potentially telekinetic abilities but needs the protection of strong man reminds us of The Fifth Element. Given the gray look, vague descriptions of refugees, and constant discussion about crossing borders, Children of Men comes to mind too. Heavy borrowing leaves us thinking not about this film, rather those that inspired it. This is when we question when dystopian futures became a cliché.
All the film’s merits can be found in better movies. Those influences are oversimplified into dull, mindless, actionized conventions lacking a shred of the intended social commentary, the result obviously cut to bits by whatever studio editor took over. Kassovitz put it best himself in the aforementioned interview saying, “It’s pure violence and stupidity.” Clearly, subplots have been removed, as well as scenes explaining what the heck is going on. Case in point: A missile explodes in Aurora’s face and it blows up everything around her, but she survives without a scratch. We never find out how or why. If decision-makers at Fox want to throw away their investment on such sloppy filmmaking, that’s their choice. You’d think they’d place more care into spending $60 million.