Making a Mess

'Babylon A.D.' is bad, but not as bad as other critics are making it out to be

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Babylon A.D. is that it isn't nearly as bad as the critical consensus might lead you to believe it is. It's one of the worst reviewed films of the year, currently rocking a 4 percent rating on, which would actually qualify it as one of the worst-reviewed films ever made if you took the tomato-meter seriously.

Babylon A.D. is not one of the worst films ever made. Yes, it certainly could be called "bad" and is a project that appears to have fallen beyond the grasps of its star, director and studio. It's just one of those movies that, while occasionally showing promise, isn't good enough for anybody to say they liked it. I won't even go so far as to say that this film is one of the year's worst. Disappointing? Yes. Confusing? Sure. But it's far from awful, and director Mathieu Kassovitz, who recently disowned the film in the press, knows how to frame a shot and create an interesting world.

The plot involves a grouchy man named Toorop (Vin Diesel) who is hired by a Russian mob boss (Gérard Depardieu) to escort a young woman named Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from a Mongolian convent to New York for unknown reasons. Along the way, Toorop gets into an ultimate cage fight, rides in a submarine and almost has sex with Aurora--the two are about to make out when they are interrupted by Aurora's convent guardian (played by the remarkably beautiful Michelle Yeoh), who has come along for the trip.

When the trio get to New York, the cityscape looks pretty darned good. I was immediately struck by the nice special effects on Manhattan. They've actually created something that looks a lot like the proposed Freedom Tower, and the billboards adorning building sides are reminiscent of Blade Runner. (I realize this is film No. 2,738 to use Blade Runner as an inspiration, but I'm OK with that if it's done well.)

The problem is, not enough time is spent in Manhattan, and the finale is a dud. There's some nonsense involving the immaculate conception of twins, and I still don't know their significance. Are they messiahs? Are they fierce demon children? Are they the next big singing sensations? The film doesn't care to explain.

Charlotte Rampling, playing the leader of some futuristic religion, is given little to do besides overact and occasionally shoot people. Her performance is the worst in the movie, quite an accomplishment when sharing a film with Vin Diesel. Kassovitz has claimed that 20th Century Fox demanded a PG-13 rating and an abbreviated running time, and the film certainly feels as if somebody meddled with it, especially regarding Rampling. Her character makes no sense, and the truncated ending feels like major plot points and explanations are missing.

Diesel makes for an OK action hero here, even if he does always act as if it's naptime and speaks as if he's got boulders in his mouth. I usually hate the guy, but I found him almost tolerable in this movie. Thierry is a mighty interesting-looking actress, although her performance calls for a lot of incomprehensible wailing and screaming. Yeoh lends her usual brand of grace and poise to the mayhem.

I'm curious to see the director's original intentions and hope that a future DVD project might give Kassovitz a chance to fix some of the problems. The film is a mess, but it's a mess that, perhaps, could've been a worthwhile cinematic adventure had the director been allowed to play out his vision. Instead, it's one of those films that is missing something--and as a result, it's taking a beating from critics who had nothing better to do on Labor Day weekend.

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