Babylon A.D.

More drivel than babel, sadly.

Released in 2008, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 29 Oct 2008 by Scott Morris
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This film stars Vin Diesel.

Wait! Come back! It's not all bad. Well, it's pretty bad, to be honest, or at least rather unimpressive for a variety of reasons, but it's not The Pacifier bad. More Chronicles of Riddick style bad, which is to say bad with a few redeeming features that make me wish I could like it more than I actually do. But I'm getting somewhat ahead of myself.

Babylon A.D, based on the novel Babylon Babies whose synopsis appears to be even more head spinning than this film, sets itself in a not too far flung future that's if not post-apocaylptic, is at least plummeting headlong in that general direction. Eastern Europe and Russia appears to have a small scale nuclear argument, terrorism runs rife, refugees are everywhere and organised crime or its close compatriot, corporations and religious organisation appears to have entirely replaced governments. No change there then ho ho ho etc.

Diesel plays Toorop, your common or garden superhuman mercenary, best of the best, et al, scratching out a fairly squalid life having seemingly given up the shootybang business. It's not long before he's forced at gunpoint to escort a young girl Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her protector Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) into America, Toorop's homeland. Seeing as he's been looking for a way back anyway he's amenable to the suggestion, although it's round about this point where any surety I have about proceedings evaporates, so let's reduce this to what I Know To Be True.

Our three protagonists attempt to get to America. Other groups follow and attempt to stop them, for reasons that may or may not make sense, at timeframes appropriate to stop an audience losing interest. It has a lot of guns and the tone of a film wanting to be much more brutal than its rating allows it to be, which never sits well. While none of it's massively exciting, it's at least bamboozling enough to hold attention during it's runtime, perhaps in the hope that it'll start making sense on anything more than a superficial chase-action flick level.

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It doesn't, particularly, and I'm going to assume that's an issue with the film rather than an issue with my tiny little brain. I feel rather conflicted about bringing this up, to be honest. It seems that most of the time I'm writing about films I'm writing about how disappointingly limited in scope it feels or about how little ambition it has or how entirely derivative it is. I don't think it would be fair to level any of these points at Babylon A.D.. There is, bubbling underneath a layer of faintly underwhelming action nonsense, some Big Ideas here, the sort of Big Ideas that demand capitalisation.

Sadly, it does such a terrible job of explaining them that they might as well not be there. Exposition is typically inserted in clumsy blocks that feel out of place and often obscure more than they explain. By the end of the film it does its damndest to transmit the fact that something important in their world has happened, but what the heck it means to anyone is a matter that may have to wait until the director's commentary on the DVD. That said, while I'm speaking from a position of almost total ignorance, the book appears to even more bafflingly high concept in its themes so perhaps it's appropriate that I can't tell you what the deal with this film is.

I want to like this film a heck of a lot more than I can actually justify by anything that it does. Taken as an action film it's not meaty enough, and as anything deeper than that it's altogether too mystifying to contemplate. Rumours abound of friction betwixt director and studio, so there is perhaps a very interesting director's cut upcoming and to be honest, I think even if it never arrives you'd be better off waiting for it rather than watch the version that's escaped to cinemas just now.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Mathieu Kassovitz
Cast list:
Vin Diesel (Toorop)
Michelle Yeoh (Sister Rebeka)
Melanie Thierry (Aurora)
Gerard Depardieu (Gorsky)
Charlotte Rampling (High Priestess)