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Babylon A.D. (2008)


Starring : Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardeu, Charlotte Rampling
Director : Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenwriter: Mathieu Kassovitz, Joseph Simas
Rating : PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality

I always regarded Mathieu Kassovitz as a talented director. His 1995 director award at Cannes for “La Haine” (aso nominated for the Palme D’Or) and his ’97 second nomination for “Assassin(s)” seemed to confirm that. But his follow up films seemed to be less inclined to please the critics. “Les Rivieres Pourpres”, “Gothika” and the awesome failure “Babylon A.D.” won’t be seen present at any awards ceremony too soon (maybe the Razzies). The latter, even Kassovitz dismisses as being like a bad episode of “24”.

His troubles seem to have started in the production stages of the film, with the studios interfering quite often in his efforts, altering both the script and the overall directorial vision. It certainly must have been some complex script since I read it took him five years to write it. Also, it seems 70 minutes of the film were cut before release, against Kassovitz’s will. I’m not sure if they would have made any difference, but it might still have been better than the current confused mess it is.

Somewhere in a relatively near future, Vin Diesel is Toorop, a cynical mercenary who receives a delicate mission from a russian gangster, Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu in heavy make-up). The mission requires Toorop to escort a mysterious young girl, Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her protector, sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) to New York. The two are members of a global religious cult, the Neolites, whose ambitions regard influence on a global scale. The trio’s perilous journey from the frozen wastes of Russia to the neon-lit New York carries the viewer through numerous dystopian locations, without going into too much backstory about this version of the future. The production design certainly contains enough clues about what a bad place the world has become, all because of our rotten nature, hence the title “Babylon A.D.”. Also, Toorop’s mission becomes even more complicated when Aurora seems to manifest all kinds of supernatural traits. She can see things before they happen, she can sense the emotions of people around her and acts like the designated messiah of the future. Also joining the chase are the Neolite’s High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling), acting like the designated villain, and Aurora’s long lost father who comes at the exact moment of the plot to provide the film with its twist. Toorop and Rebeka become guardian angels (I just could not avoid further religious analogies) in an invisible conflict, with mankind’s fate at stake.

As I mentioned, there are twists involved so I’ll keep the synopsis to a minimum. It might not be much of a film, but I don’t want to ruin the whole thing for you. It’s biggest flaw seems to be the incoherent story. Minus the 70 lost minutes, it’s just a jumbled 90 minute mess that has to squeeze a plot between the Vin Diesel patented action scenes. It feels incomplete, confusing and ultimately too over the top in pursuing the religious tone. It’s also the kind of Sci Fi with a moral statement attached, but it’s more like a slap over the head than a revelation. The visual effects and production design are quite good for the moderate budget it had available. Vin Diesel is convincing enough for the part, considering all he has to do is to mumble lines and be physical. The supporting cast does a good enough job considering, though they are clearly not having any fun. The action is a bit lacking, and when it does show up it doesn’t impress. For example, a big shootout in the middle of a jammed intersection ends up being over-edited and confusing. The ending is silly and comes surprisingly too late. Overall, it can be argued that the film does not have much going for it.

It might not be entirely the director’s fault. He might be the victim of the studios much like David Fincher with Alien 3. However, this does not excuse the finished product which is catastrophic. It might have required a Director’s Cut to make sense of it, but as it is, it’s just a waste of time.


The Hangover (2009)



Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Jeffrey Tambor, Rachel Harris, Heather Graham, Rob Riggle
Director: Todd Phillips
r: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, Todd Phillips, Jeremy Garelick

I was 15 minutes into this movie and I could not point to one single minimally redeemable character. In the background there was this vaguely familiar noise: my country’s most notable musical export, sung by Rihanna here, was even worse than the God-awful original. By the time it got to the “Who Let the Dogs Out”, I was not sure I could stay until the end. If only I knew there was more, that somebody would play a slow rendition of one of the most insulting pieces of “songwriting” in the history of music: “Candy Shop”, I would have run for the hills.

And just as I was getting ready for a quick exit and calculating my way out, “the hangover” happened. The characters woke up missing a tooth and the groom and with a surplus of a baby and a tiger. I was so curious I stayed until the end. The four men – Doug, Stu, Phil and Alan, all in different stages of their lives/relationships, spent a wild night in Vegas and they wake up not knowing what happened. My years of “Lost” taught me that “it’s all in their head, they’re drunk” or that “it’s all a conspiracy”, and I now know that watching TV can be hazardous for a healthy normal enjoyment of a big screen comedy. Luckily, my theories were soon shut down and |I was impressed by the outcome.

The movie is trying way too hard and its only props are some poor flat jokes of no substance and some questionable slapstick humor. And these are the good parts. There are also some unremarkable female characters that sometimes border extreme bitchiness, an unsuccessful and surprisingly pointless cameo by Mike Tyson, a tiny yet very mean Asian mobster caricature, and two of my cinema pet peeves – Bradley Cooper and Heather Graham. This whole glorious ensemble has only one positive outcome: the groom stand out as being the best man (no pun intended) out of this bunch, although that is not that impressive once you count his competition: a borderline functionally retarded individual who possibly is a repeated sex offender, a middle school teacher who takes the class school trips money as he screams at his students: “You do not exist!” and a dentist whose hairline is always beneath the hard pressed shoe of his hateful cheating girlfriend.

As they try to figure out their whereabouts of the previous night, they go through the longest day of their lives. There are some occasional funny moments, but they are rare and a little far fetched. Actually, the scene that made me laugh the most was the picture collage (deliciously intentionally amateurish) that shed some light on their misadventures, but not even that was not an original move, as I’ve seen it before in “What Happens in Vegas”. Oh yes, these movies are both set in Vegas and their humor relies on alcohol, and they both are played by popular actors that bring crowds into the cinemas. But “The Hangover” is a little bit better, more evolved, at least it has some well enough drawn characters and lacks idealistic romance, as the stripper is not a gold hearted naïve but a realist – “I am actually an escort, but as a striper I find customers more easily”. But did they need all those people to write this tired script?

Bottom line is: it is not groundbreaking comedy, it is not even must see material, but it is a decent waste of time accompanied by a few laughs that might just add up to the price of the tickets.  And if you are in a better mood than I was, you may actually enjoy it.