Vin Diesel as Toorop
Michelle Yeoh as Sister Rebeka
Mélanie Thierry as Aurora
Gérard Depardieu as Gorsky
Charlotte Rampling as High Priestess
Mark Strong as Finn
Lambert Wilson as Darquandier
Jérôme Le Banner as Killa
Joel Kirby as Dr. Newton
Souleymane Dicko as Jamal
David Belle as Kid with Tattoos
Radek Bruna as Karl
Jan Unger as Fight Promoter
Abraham Belaga as Assistant to High Priestess
Gary Cowan as Neolite Executive
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
Like a futuristic remake of “XXX” that no one ever asked for, this atrociously lame and redundant sci-fi flick also holds the honor of being the dullest action movie of the year.
In the not-too-distant future, the ruthless mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) has been hired to protect Aurora (Mélanie Thierry), a mysterious young woman with mental powers who has been holed up in a Kazakhstan convent her entire life, smuggling her and her guardian Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) to New York City, putting them against all sorts of obstacles along the way.
There are bad movies and there are bad movies and then there are movies so bad they take the art of bad filmmaking to a new level of bad, one that seriously makes you wish you weren’t forced to sit until the very end of the movie by your oath as a critic to watch the entire thing. As much as one can try and set their expectations low and hope for a surprise, in the case of “Babylon A.D.” a cross-continental adaptation of the obscure French sci-fi novel “Babylon Babies,” it’s not just the lack of originality or the questionable lead casting that kills the movie, as much as all the factors being combined in such a slapshod way that you wonder how this possibly could have gotten through any quality control system.
You know you’re in for a doozy when this not-to-distant future is set-up by an introductory voice-over by Vin Diesel’s character in a heavy Queens accent, ending with the claim that this is the “day he dies.” This is our introduction to the unfortunately-named Toorup, a mercenary who we learn has been in it for himself for a long time, but finally has found a chance at absolution for the bad things he’s done by accepting the job as bodyguard for a mysterious young woman named Aurora. A Tabula Rasa out in the world for the first time, Aurora apparently holds the future of mankind within her, and over the course of their trip across Russia, we learn that not only can she read minds, see the future and do all sorts of cool things, she’s also pregnant with twins despite never having slept with a man!
Maybe we could accept this premise, if we haven’t seen essentially the exact same plot done better in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” and your mind tends to glaze over any of the attempted social commentary undertones by all of the stupid dialogue and action scenes. Any credibility this future Earth might have is quelched by the filmmaker’s half-assed vision of a future where the height of technology is a fold-out paper map where the images can be moved around with your hand much like on a modern-day PDA. It’s just one example of the movie’s failed attempt at selling the viewer on this future even with some of the futuristic environments that show off what director Matthieu Kassovitz and his team are able to create with CG, green screen and models, even if some of it seems blatantly familiar.
Only those who’ve read the original novel will know if the movie’s many problems were taken from the original source material, but so much of it seems to have been sampled from other movies and novels that it makes every beat of the movie highly predictable. When the three of them arrive at a Russian refugee camp, they’re quickly herded into the obligatory techno club that has become the cliché of genre movies. In the center of the place is a cage where a monster of a man takes on all-comers in a fight to the death, and if you haven’t figured out that Toorup will ultimately face this extreme fighter by this awkward foreshadowing, you haven’t seen enough of these movies.
Things gets even worse when Diesel drives his charges across the Arctic landscape on snowmobiles being chased by jets, and in a scene taken right out of “XXX,” he flips his snowmobile to avoid the missiles with an explosion of snow behind him reminding one of the famous snowboarding the avalanche scene from that movie. For the most part, the action scenes are poorly shot and edited in a way that makes them more confusing than exciting, particularly an incredibly lame fight with a group of “parkour ninjas” (for lack of a better description).
Covered in fake scars and tattoos, Diesel delivers his awful one-liners in a way that would make Stallone proud, and it’s immediately apparent that placing this sort of one-dimensional character into any attempt at a serious dystopian future shock story immediately detracts from any intelligence. Much of what’s bad about the movie comes down to the fact that it feels like we’ve seen all of before, whether it’s the imagery within the Russian refugee camp (“Children of Men”) or a New York City brightly lit up and plastered with advertising ala “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.”
The abundant similarities between “Babylon A.D.” and its mediocre predecessors like “The Fifth Element” and “Ultraviolet” makes you wonder why Kassovitz didn’t hire Milla Jovovich to star in it. Instead, we get blonde French bimbo Mélanie Thierry, who is such a bad actress that she makes Vin look better. Every time she calls his name with her heavy French accent “Tooooruuuuup” you cringe, especially after a particularly wretch-worthy scene as the two of them make romantic eyes at each other in a bathroom. It’s one of those “please don’t go there” moments that tips the movie from awful to “return the DVD without watching the rest,” because no one… N.O.O.N.E… will be watching this movie hoping these two will get together, not even the hopeless (or hapless) romantics who accidentally stumble into this disaster, and it’s certainly a dealbreaker for anyone who’s allowed themselves to go on the ride until then.
Otherwise, Kassovitz has assembled an impressive Eurepean and Asian cast with Charlotte Rampling and Lambert Wilson as Aurora’s separated parents, two characters who pop in and out of the story with very little explanation who they are. While they do make interesting side characters, their mostly expository dialogue is so awful, it’s hard not to stifle a laughter every time they open their mouths. Obviously, Kassovitz’s rep was able to get him such high-profile French actors, but you wonder how an actress like Michelle Yeoh, who usually can do no wrong, could get roped into such a bland role as playing Vin Diesel’s fighting nun sidekick.
Eventually we’re back to where we begun, the “day Toorop dies” and by that point, you’re almost praying for him to be put of our misery. Sadly, it’s not that easy, as soon enough, he’s back with cybernetically-enhanced limbs including a “bionic hand” that literally looks like a see-through glove with some wires glued to it. It all leads to him trying to get Aurora back, a dull car chase, a dry scene between the two of them in a hospital room and then it’s suddenly over, leaving so much unresolved and unexplained. It’s something that’s likely to make anyone watching this even angrier, especially when it ends with a lame headscratcher of an epilogue, which makes it seem as if some important explanatory scene was left out. It’s the final slap in the viewer’s face that the torment to one’s sanity ends in such an awful and unsatisfying resolution.
The Bottom Line:
Who knows where this sci-fi action movie went wrong but sitting through it without laughing, either from discomfort or from its silliness, is difficult. Supposedly, this was a dream project for Kassovitz, and he certainly has a knack for visuals, even if not a lot of them are original. Trying to defend your work by blaming the studio (as Kassovitz has done) doesn’t excuse the fact that this is the worst in a long line of movies attempting to mix intelligent sci-fi fare with mindless action to predictably horrendous results.