Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Babylon A.D. is that it isn’t nearly as bad as the critical consensus might lead you to believe. It’s one of the worst reviewed films of the year, currently rocking a 4 percent rating on rottentomatoes.com, which would actually qualify it as one of the worst films ever made if you took the tomato-meter seriously.
It’s not. It certainly is something that could be called bad, a project that appears to have gotten beyond the grasps of its star, director, and the studio producing it. It’s just one of those movies that, while showing promise, isn’t good enough for anybody to say they liked it. Still, I won’t even go so far as to say that this film is one of the year’s worst. Disappointing, yes. Confusing, sure. But it’s far from awful, and director Mathieu Kassovitz, who recently disowned the film in the press, knows how to frame a shot and create an interesting world.
The plot involves a grouchy man named Thoorop (Vin Diesel), who is hired by a Russian mob boss (Gerard Depardieu) to escort a young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) from a Mongolian convent to New York for reasons unknown. Along the way, Thoorop gets into an ultimate cage fight, rides a submarine, and almost has sex with Aurora. The two are about to make out when they are interrupted by Aurora’s convent guardian (played by the remarkably beautiful Michelle Yeoh), who has come along for the trip.
When the trio gets to New York, the cityscape looks pretty darned good. I was immediately struck by the nice use of special effects on Manhattan. They’ve actually created something that looks a lot like the proposed Freedom Tower, and the billboards adorning building sides are reminiscent of Blade Runner. I realize this is film number 2,738 to use Blade Runner as inspiration, but I’m OK with that if it’s done well.
Problem is, not enough time is spent in Manhattan. The film would’ve played better if its ending was more substantial, but the finale is a dud. There’s some nonsense involving the immaculate conception of twins, and I still don’t know the significance of the eventually born kids. Are they messiahs? Are they fierce demon children? Are they the next big singing sensations? Film doesn’t care to explain.
Charlotte Rampling, playing the leader of some futuristic religion, is given little to do besides overact and occasionally shoot people. Hers is the worst performance in the movie, quite the accomplishment when it’s a film you share with Vin Diesel. Kassovitz has claimed that 20th Century Fox demanded a PG-13 rating and abbreviated running time, and the film certainly feels as if somebody meddled with it, especially with regard Rampling. Her character makes no sense, and the truncated ending feels like it’s missing major plot points and explanations.
Diesel makes for an OK action hero this time out, even if he does always act as if it’s nap time and speaks as if he’s got boulders in his mouth. I usually hate the guy, but I found him almost tolerable in this movie. Thierry is a mighty interesting looking actress, although her performance calls for a lot of incomprehensible wailing and screaming. Yeoh lends her usual brand of tremendous grace and poise to the mayhem.
I’m curious to see the director’s original intentions with Babylon A.D., and hope that a future DVD project might give the director a chance to fix some of the problems. The film is a mess, but it’s a mess that seems as if it could’ve been a worthwhile cinematic adventure had the director been allowed to play out his vision. Instead, it’s just one of those films that is missing something and, consequently, takes a beating from critics who have nothing better to do on Labor Day weekend.