Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Mélanie Thierry, Gérard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling. Rated PG-13.
Mathieu Kassovitz has seen better days.
After scoring best director honors at Cannes for 1995’s La
Haine, his gritty depiction of life on the
mean streets of Paris – followed by a memorable acting turn as Audrey Tautou's
beau in Amélie – the French
auteur nurtured Babylon A.D. for
five years before watching 20th Century Fox slice and dice his footage into
something painfully short on continuity and coherence. He has since condemned
the project as “a terrible experience,” and dismissed the film as “pure
violence and stupidity.”
He's half right. Babylon’s violence isn’t really gratuitous (though there’s plenty to spare),
but the story is mired in narrative quicksand and populated by characters whose
motives range from murky to nonexistent. Consider an early scene in which a
small battalion surrounds Toorop, the hulking mercenary played by Vin Diesel.
Words are exchanged. Toorop disarms their leader, blows off his head and
surrenders. Should they kill him? Incarcerate him? No, they let him walk. No
Soon, Toorop is commissioned by a Russian mobster named
Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu, sporting a laughable prosthetic nose) to smuggle a
package from war-torn Eastern Europe to New York. Babylon A.D. is set in the not-too-distant
future, when most of
the world has been reduced to bombed-out warehouses surrounded by massive
billboards, but residents of the Big Apple can take heart: Manhattan remains an
industrious mecca, plastered with enough neon to invite comparison with Blade
Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles.
Toorop's package is Aurora, a young woman (Mélanie
Thierry) seemingly inspired by Milla Jovovich's post-apocalyptic warrior
princess from The Fifth Element. Aurora
is deeply troubled, and you would be too if you could feel the rest of the
world’s pain and foretell impending disasters. (Apparently, she did not
anticipate Babylon A.D.) Aurora
is something extraordinary – a messiah, perhaps, or a biological weapon armed
with a deadly virus – but the root and extent of her powers is explained
hastily and not very clearly.
I believe Kassovitz when he says Babylon A.D. began as a more
serious meditation on the future of
a world ravaged by political irresponsibility, even if his choice of leading
men – Diesel’s caveman-like frame seems suited to his brusque, charmless
persona – suggests a less cerebral exercise. Inspired by cyberpunk novelist
Maurice Georges Dantec’s Babylon Babies, the film unfolds like a low-rent retread of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children
of Men, which had emphatic ideas about
genetic engineering, authoritarian governments and their affiliation with
organized religion. Babylon A.D.
has ideas, too, but they are hopelessly lost in a story with no interior logic.