Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hollywood's Babylon: "Babylon A.D." (2008)

This much maligned Vin Diesel film doesn't deserve the hate it has received.

In a rather simple story, mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) is hired by Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu, sporting the ugliest make up in film history...I hope that's makeup) to deliver a girl to from Mongolia to New York. This is all well and good, except the film takes place in the future, where terrorism, global warming, and a new cult-like religion rule an overpopulated planet (New York City's head count is at 32 million). Toorop picks up the girl, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), and Aurora's adoptive mother, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh).

Toorop and his charge encounter a lot of what you might expect in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but director Mathieu Kassovitz acts as if you haven't seen a Mad Max film, and almost gets away with it. His action sequences are insanely good, rivaling a James Bond film in their excitement. His vision of the future owes a lot to "Blade Runner" (it's funny to see that Coca-Cola owns EVERYTHING), although motel water credits and everywhere-advertising isn't that far from the imagination.

The film was dumped in theaters in late summer of 2008 with almost no advertising, and Kassovitz disowned his creation. I watched the 101 minute uncut version on video (not bothering with the ninety minute theatrical version, which apparently is incomprehensible), but the longer version is still unsatisfying. Diesel plays well with the other cast mates, turning in a nice performance, although the tough mercenary who develops a conscience has been seen before. Charlotte Rampling comes along late as the high priestess of the cult, and this turn in the plot feels all wrong. I'm not familiar with Maurice Dantec's source novel, but the ending, which seemed to hopefully set up a sequel or franchise, is infuriating mostly because you know "Babylon A.D. Part II" is not on anyone's horizon. I am not sure if this longer version is simply more action and plot added to recoup losses (the film was a box office disaster), or if Kassovitz had a hand in this version. Either way, I hope we don't get a bunch of versions of this over the next few years, just like "Blade Runner."

"Babylon A.D." is an interesting failure, and full of irony. In a future run by mega-corporations, the film was mucked up by...a mega-corporation. The future is now, it seems. (* * *) out of five stars.