Monday, September 1, 2008

Review: Babylon A.D.

Writing a negative review of "Babylon A.D." makes me feel like the world's biggest bully. This is due to the fact that Matthieu Kassovitz, the director, has more or less disowned his movie, claiming that Fox hijacked the production and completely destroyed his vision of the film. Word has it that somewhere between fifteen and seventy minutes of the film were cut out for the theatrical release, so that it could be distilled down to a more action-centric, marketable film. This is just another of those unfortunate cases where a director comes to Hollywood and gets sucked into the vacuum.

But, let me get to the film before I light into it any further. "Babylon" is the story of Toorop (Vin Diesel), a mercenary living in a futuristic version of the Eastern Bloc. He lives in a run-down tenement, taking work when he can, until one day, when Gorsky (an unrecognizable Gerard Depardieu) contacts Toorop with an assignment. He has to smuggle a young girl named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) into America within a week. For reasons never fully explained, Toorop is registered as a terrorist in America and cannot re-enter, but Gorsky promises him safe passage, and Toorop sees his shot at a new life. He sets out with Aurora and her protector, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), only to find that more than one party has an interest in Aurora, and are willing to kill Toorop to get their hands on her.

The first half of the film is pretty interesting, at least if you enjoy films within the post-apocalypse subgenre. The trio end up fighting their way through a crowded boatyard, a debaucherous nightclub and a snowy mountain, among other areas, and along the way, Toorop begins to figure out that there is far more to Aurora than he was told about when he took the job. Up to this point, the film is fairly entertaining, though it's somewhat obvious that Kassovitz intended for this to be more in the vein of "Blade Runner", rather than a faceless action-sci-fi film.

Then, I'm not quite sure what happened at this point in the production, but without giving too much away, the film attempts to turn into "Children of Men", and absolutely rips through the logic behind this within a half hour. This is where the tampering with the final cut becomes grossly evident, as the film jumps from one major plot point to the next without any real explanation. There is a point where a major character is killed off, and the film spends, at most, five seconds on this before jumping to the next scene. The biggest plot twist of the film is introduced right before a major action sequence, and as a result, you forget until near the end of the film about it, and then the film wraps itself up with a happy ending that comes so far out of left field that when the credits roll, you'll just be left scratching your head.

The real shame here is that this film, in the right hands, could have been a great philosophical science fiction film, in the vein of "The Matrix" or the aforementioned "Children of Men." This was rendered impossible by editing that indicates Fox wanted to sell this to twelve-year-old boys with the smallest of attention spans, and the inexcusably short running time (no good science fiction film can tell its story in 89 minutes.) Instead, all we get is a failed opportunity, and a sad return to theaters for Diesel, one of the better action stars going today. If the director's cut of this film ever surfaces, I would genuinely like to see it, because there is a great movie buried in here somewhere. It just never got set free.

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