‘Babylon A.D.’ movie review: Vin Diesel in Prague-shot sci-fi mess

Mathieu Kassovitz’s Babylon A.D. is not without some interesting elements, but, nah, don’t even bother – it’s a complete mess. There’s an intriguing futuristic design – notably that of New York City, which comes into play too late in the film – and the germ of some potentially fascinating material, but it’s all thrown into a blender and the resulting film completely lacks cohesion.

But do note: it comes very close to the so-bad-it’s-good category, and Vin Diesel’s final line had me in stitches; I haven’t had this much fun with a bad movie since Frank Miller’s The Spirit. While bad movie fans should be able to appreciate, it’s a real muddle for everyone else.

A muddle starring Vin Diesel, who plays your usual bounty hunter/transporter/courier/man with no name. Except here they gave him the most ridiculous name they could come up with: Toorop. Yes, Toorop, which everyone in the multicultural cast has a unique pronunciation for, from Turok (Dinosaur Hunter) to Tupac.

Now, this is the future, meaning it’s the same as the present except grimier and with better technology. For undisclosed reasons, Toorop is hired/blackmailed into escorting a young girl from Mongolia to New York City. The client/blackmailer is a Russian mobster named Gorsky, played by Gérard Depardieu. Depardieu, knowing what kind of movie he’s in, is over-the-top awful.

The rest of the cast, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie this is, and peck away at their awful dialogue with methodical precision. Diesel is his usual stone-faced, monotone self, and he’s joined in emotionless line-stumbling by Mélanie Thierry, who plays Aurora, the girl he’s escorting, and Michelle Yeoh as Rebekah, her escort.

What’s the point of their journey? We don’t know throughout the first two acts, only that it’s something important, as Aurora seems to have unspecified powers. The writers think they’re being effective by holding their revelations till the end, but in reality, they’re only draining the rest of the film of any kind of suspense; we don’t know what’s going on, nor do we care.

Then everything is revealed, and we realize why it was kept hush-hush: it’s a huge clusterfuck of illogical nonsense involving artificial intelligence, clones, religion, and virgin births. It makes absolutely zero sense within the logic of the film and it’s futuristic setting. And it introduces another terrible performance, this time from a great actress, Charlotte Rampling, who is forced to spew out a lot of the nonsense.

The last 15 minutes of Babylon A.D. are madness, a clear sign that something went horribly, horribly wrong during the making (and editing) of the film. Director Kassovitz has disowned the final product, which has killed off his Hollywood career; let’s hope he goes back to making films like La Haine.

There’s a longstanding tradition of studio interference in big-budget sci-fi (see: Brazil) but I doubt this one had much of a chance from the outset. The production itself, however, is mostly first-rate; there’s certainly a lot of money up there on the screen.

(Babylon A.D. is hitting Prague cinemas some eighteen months after it was released throughout the rest of the world. Of all the films to resurrect…)

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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