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.