STARRING: Vin Diesel, Gerard
Depardieu, Michelle Yeoh, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Strong, Radek Bruna, Melanie
Thierry, Lambert Wilson
2008, 90 Minutes, Directed by:
A.D. is unfortunately just as bad as one expected it would be . . .
Expectations for Babylon
A.D. were never very high. First off it is a low-budget "European
co-production" - never a good sign. Second, it stars Vin "my career isn't going
anywhere right now" Diesel along with two faded French stars (Gerard Depardieu
and Charlotte Rampling) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Michelle
Yeoh. Third, it is based on an obscure book by an
equally obscure French author (Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec). Then
there's the "we're
ripping Blade Runner off" promotional material
featuring a future New York cityscape cribbed directly from Ridley Scott's 1982
classic - all giant neon ads and everything.
That isn't where the plagiarism
ends though. The biggest problem is the script, which is made up of clichés
pilfered from other movies, including a lame I don't stick my neck out for
no-one" voice-over by everyone's favorite nightclub bouncer as action hero, Vin
Diesel. The last spoken line of dialogue from the screenplay is "there's a storm coming!" Did the screenwriters believe that they were the only
people who had ever seen The Terminator and would
actually get away with it?
Anyway, it is the near future.
The audience isn't let into much about this particular future (a major failing of the
screenplay) except that things are definitely shittier than they are right now.
For starters, much of Eastern Europe seems to have descended into chaos and
civil war following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. (One would have said
that this is so, well, 'Nineties - except that Russia invaded Georgia
just the other day, so . . .)
Diesel plays a lone wolf mercenary named Toorop,
which actually sounds more like the name of a Western hero's sidekick than anything
else. Toorop is supposed to be an anti-hero with a tough exterior, but a soft
interior. Only problem is that Diesel is rather unconvincing at this and wears
his heart too much on his sleeve to convince the audience that he actually
somehow managed to survive in the anarchic every-man-for- himself environment we
meet him in at the beginning of the movie.
"The sort of thing that would have starred Rutger Hauer in his
direct-to-video heyday . . ."
Toorop is given his clichéd
last assignment - you know, the one that will let him escape his circumstances
for good - by a shady warlord played by an overweight Depardieu. One can almost
see this once acclaimed thesp trying to have some fun with his role, but the
movie never really allows him to.
Toorop has to smuggle a young girl named
Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian Sister Rebeka (Yeoh) out of
the former Soviet Union across the frozen tundras of Alaska and Canada into New
York. However it seems that something is not right with the girl - she knows
stuff she is not supposed to, like for instance, piloting a nuclear submarine.
It is also hinted that she might somehow have superpowers, but this is never
really spelt out.
Obviously there are other
groups, including a religious cult led by the villainous Charlotte Rampling,
who are interested in Aurora and want to kidnap the girl. The only thing is that
Diesel and co. don't know whether these groups are actually the good or the bad
The problem is that we in the
audience don't know either . . .
The screenplay is in fact so
underwritten that we never know exactly why Aurora is so important to the
religious sect that is pursuing her. The only explanation we get is that Aurora
is going to give virgin birth to a pair of twins. So what? With
artificial insemination a virgin birth nowadays isn't exactly the big deal it was,
say, two thousand years ago. For some reason the girl's pregnancy will turn the sect
from a cult into a ?bona fide religion.? Whatever.
is also hinted that Aurora is an artificial human ? a super smart computer in
human form, but it is never explained why they just can't build another one
again using the blue prints.
Babylon A.D. is an
underwritten mess that never explains the future world it is set in, or any of the issues at stake. The screenplay is in fact so
underwritten that it never even bothers with dispatching the main villain (Rampling)
and has an underwhelming car chase as the film's climax while the film's best
action sequence is stuck somewhere in the middle of the movie. The film's events
have no gravitas because the audience simply don't know exactly why they should
care about what is going
To makes things worse, the action sequences
themselves are often just as confusing and
muddled as the plot itself. Devoid of anything so much as a hint of suspense, thebest thing
about Babylon A.D. is its surprisingly elaborate (for such a low-budget
affair, that is) production designs. It is at
its best with its portrayals of social decay, its scenes of huge crowds milling around
aimlessly in chaotic open air markets and the like.
Ultimately Babylon A.D. is the sort of thing that
would have starred either Christopher Lambert or Rutger Hauer in their
straight-to-video heyday years ago.
But one supposes that they are either too old or too overweight nowadays. (Hauer
Steven Seagal - spent much of his movie career dressed in a long black coat
designed to disguise his bulging midriff!) So they got Vin Diesel instead.
Diesel promisingly kicked his career off with the lean muscular sci-fi thriller Pitch Black eight years ago, but the
interim years haven't been kind to him. He now seems destined for
straight-to-DVD releases because that is exactly what Babylon A.D. is:
something that should have headed straight for the video shop shelves instead of
making a stopover in cinemas first . . .