September 1, 2008

Movie Review: Babylon A.D.

When all you know about Babylon A.D. is the trailer, you may think the movie is going to be good, derivative, perhaps, but good. There is nothing wrong with that; I thought the same thing. The purpose of the trailer is to make the movie look good, make it appealing to as wide an audience as it can. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, this is a good example of that. The science fiction epic should have been able to deliver the goods, instead of being an entertaining movie, it was an exercise in tedium filled with overblown action sequences with characters I could not care less about telling a story that did not make much sense. The best thing you can do with this movie is skip it. If you absolutely must see a hollow exercise in action, make it Death Race, that one may be dumb, but it is more exhilarating.

Of course, if you pay attention to movie sites you already had a good idea that this movie was going to fail to deliver. Why? Because of the wonderful comments that director Mathieu Kassovitz had to say about it. Among his comments is this gem from AMC's Sci Fi Scanner: "I'm very unhappy with the film. 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." Certainly makes it sound like a winner, no?

The film opens with pouring rain, a pounding hip hop beat and a poncho-clad Vin Diesel walking int slow motion tough guy mode through a war torn future, soldiers marching by, people selling weapons out of tents, scary stuff. Where is he heading? To confront a bad guy of course. What evil did he perpetrate against our hero? Sold him a bad gun. Oh well, I guess not all of the battles can be world changing events. Still, this opening struck me as awfully anti-climatic.

Shortly thereafter, Vin Diesel, as mercenary Toorop, is having himself some dinner when his apartment is invaded by men with guns. It turns out that a man named Gorsky needs to hire him for an important mission. Toorop is charged with traveling to a remote monastery in Mongolia, where he will transport a young girl to New York City. Why? That is never made clear.

The entirety of Babylon A.D. is a chase. From the moment he meets up with the girl, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), and her guardian, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), the trio are in a chase, pursued by faceless bad guys, all of whom want to get their hands on Aurora. Why? Who knows, nothing is made clear. They run, get shot at, run some more, get in a fist fight, run again, get shot at again, and repeat.

I found it extremely difficult to get into this movie. Sure, the action was flashy, but without character or story there is no reason for me to care. We learn some secrets about Aurora's past, we learn that her mother and her father are out to find her, we also learn that a religious sect has big plans for her. As for Toorop, we learn a little about him and his mercenary past. The script (what made it to the screen) does not leave much room for much character development or plot exposition. Instead, the movie surges forward, slowing only briefly to move the characters into position for the next action sequence.

At no point is the stage set. We get none of the surrounding information that would allow us to place the story within the world. The story, based on novel Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec, has vague overtones of Children of Men, although never coming close to that film's level of execution. Aurora is seeking family, Toorop spouts pseudo-philosophical nonsense, all between flying bullets. By the time it came to the end, I could not care less about its ramblings about artificial intelligence, religion for profit, cyborgs, and whatever else they were trying to say.

Stories have stated that anywhere from 15 to 70 minutes worth of footage was cut from the film as Fox suits stepped in. Why? As I understand it, it was for no other reason than wanting a 90 minute movie. As I read about some the films troubles, with regards to going over budget, behind schedule, and insurance company interference, I am reminded of Highlander 2: The Quickening, where the film was taken away from the filmmakers and given final cut by the producers. Of course, there would have to be some phenomenal footage among the cuts to make this anywhere near a good film.

There are some seriously goofy things in this movie. Transportation for Diesel from wherever he is at the start to Mongolia is via the back set of a car attached by a chain to a helicopter. That's right. Supposedly, everything he needs is in the trunk, but they are int he car for about five minutes, and the stuff he takes he gives up mere minutes later. I guess he didn't need any of it. Many of the ways they move around seem to be awfully impractical. Not to mention, their arrival in the states seems to be a bit to easy. I guess the difficulties in their journey were cut out.

The performances are to the poor side. Vin Diesel delivers a wooden performance where every word is carefully measured before it is said. Michelle Yeoh was fine in her limited use, while Melanie Thierry is rather bland as the young charge that needs to be delivered.

Bottomline. This is just a bad movie from start to finish. There is no setup, little story, and no character. I have no reason to care about any of them. Babylon A.D. is a terribly hollow film that may have started great on paper, but ended up a generic violence riddled mess. Whatever comments on society that were made in the book were lost through the translation and editing process. Your best bet is to skip this.

Not Recommended.

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