Five years without a directing job for director Mathieu Kassovitz and three years since a major release for star Vin Diesel was obviously not sufficient respite for their respective talents. Oh yeah, Kassovitz repudiated Babylon A.D. as it was released, but there’s sufficient evidence to strongly hint that it was never anything to get excited about—and he did make Gothika (2003), a movie the silliness of which only pales in comparison to Halle Berry’s other post-Oscar choices (e.g. Catwoman (2004)).
I’ve little doubt that Babylon A.D. was compromised during editing. The film’s ending comes out of nowhere. There’s no actual resolution. The damned movie simply stops—followed by an inexplicable tug-at-the-heartstrings scene and a corny wrap-up, which only lacks Vin Diesel being upstaged by a duck to set it up as The Pacifier 2. The whole thing smells strongly of a studio realization: As long as they brought this puppy in at under 100 minutes, they could squeeze five shows a day out of it instead of four. In their defense, it’s easy to understand why they wanted the maximum number of shows in the shortest period of time—so more people would see it before word of mouth could spread the news that the movie is a lox.
The story comes from a sci-fi novel by French punk-rocker-turned-novelist Maurice G. Dantec called Bablyon Babies. The filmmakers should have retained the novel’s title and turned the whole thing into a musical. It has a nice—if decadent—backstage musical sound to it. A little tweaking of the lyrics to “Lullaby of Broadway” (“Babylon babies don’t sleep tight until the dawn”) and you’re practically there. Alas, the filmmakers took it seriously—doubtless out of reverence for the high regard in which the source novel is held.
What they ended up with is like a low-rent Children of Men (2006), with a lot of incoherent new-agey mysticism, some Matrix-styled action, badly edited fight scenes and lots of explosions grafted on. Oh, and there’s Vin Diesel as Toorop, the gruff and cynical mercenary with a heart of mush and a longing for the old family farm in upstate New York—doubtless with a little attic and a cookie jar and probably a picket fence. Yes, it’s that believable. But since the filmmakers managed to coerce Michelle Yeoh, Charlotte Rampling and Gérard Depardieu to be in this thing, who is to say what is believable? (As an aside, what kind of mind feels it necessary to augment Depardieu with a prosthetic proboscis to “ugly” him up?)
Anyway, mercenary Toorop is charged with getting this very odd girl named Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from a terrific matte painting of a creepy convent to her mother (Rampling), the high priestess of some religioso cult in New York City. Naturally, Aurora comes equipped with her very own nun, Sister Rebeka (Yeoh), who can truly be said to have a “kung-fu grip.” Aurora is either a harbinger of doom or some crackpot notion of a messiah. Much mayhem, brawling, dubious CGI, close encounters of the sexual kind and mystical gibberish ensue. Little of it makes sense. Less of it is exciting. The fact that it’s funnier than this week’s “comedy” Disaster Movie is small compensation. At one point, Toorop gravely informs us that there’s “no mercy for the weak”—nor is there for the viewer to judge by the on-screen evidence. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality.