Tuesday, June 23, 2009


“Babylon A.D.” (** out of ****) appears in two versions on its initial DVD release with different endings. First, the 90-minute American theatrical version is available on one side with the added vehicular chase and the hero with the Babylon babies , while the so-called “raw and uncut” version screened for French and German audiences is on the flip side without the Babylon babies. Everybody who has read anybody about this troubled sci-fi saga should know by now that Twentieth Century Fox–because the film ran over budget as well as over its shooting schedule–slashed it to pack in as many showings as possible. Not surprisingly, director Mathieu Kassovitz went public and disowned the film. We’ll probably never know the truth about this visually dazzling but loquacious road movie that boasts several interesting set-pieces. “Babylon A.D.” qualifies as a thoroughly average actioneer with rugged Vin Diesel enlivening things a little with help from Michelle Yeoh.. According to Kassovitz, Fox lopped off 70 minutes, which may account for the film’s abruptness. Altogether, “Babylon A.D.” amounts to the variation on director Sergio Martino’s post-apocalyptic thriller “After the Fall of New York,” about a futuristic warrior that escorts the last virgin in the world to New York to breed children. Imagine high tech “Frankenstein” taking place in a “Blade Runner” setting with a dash of “Strange Days” swirled in for flavor and you’ll have a semblance of an idea about this hokum that concerns a geneticist who has created a Virgin Mary to give a religious corporation a publicity boost.

Both versions of “Babylon A.D.” both open with our hero’s voice-over narration about saving the planet. The 90-minute version delves into Toorop’s background, while the European version is minimal with no reference to his personal code. We get a God’s eye view of planet Earth from outer space and zoom progressively into an overhead shot of our hero in a Gotham intersection discussing his death. Afterward, Kassovitz alters the chronology and sends us six days into the past before Toorop died.

Toorop (Vin Diesel of “xXx”) is a heavily tattooed, veteran mercenary hiding in New Serbia sometime in the future. Weary of war, he only wants to return to his family’s farm in upstate New York. Toorop is quite fearless, too. Early on he confronts an arms dealer who sold him a defective gun and gets his money back while groups of heavily armed people observe him. Later, Toorop has settled down to a meal that he has cooked in his shabby apartment when his instincts warn him. He ducks as an explosion detonates and armed gunmen rush into his apartment. The scene resembles Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” where the police storm an apartment and arrest a husband while the wife watches in horror. Toorop discovers that the invasion team leader is an old nemesis who used to shoot babies in Sudan, Karl (stunt man Radek Bruna), who he promptly kills while a dozen or more laser sights illuminate his physique.

The invaders escort Toorop at gunpoint to an armored vehicle. He talks about a job with Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu of “Green Card”), a loathsome bottom feeding creep. Depardieu has been dubbed and the special effects people have slapped on a fat, pudgy nose. Neither Gorsky nor Toorop trust each other. Gorsky needs somebody to smuggle a girl into America. He pays Toorop a half-million dollars to take this teenager, Aurora (French actress Mélanie Thierry of “Chrysalis”), to America. Although the Americans have classified Toorop as a terrorist, Gorsky hands him a hypodermic device that will allow him to enter the States without fear of arrest.

Toorop leaves Gorsky and tries to light a cigarette. This is a running joke because Toorop cannot find anything with which to ignite his cigarette. A large helicopter with a four-door limo held to it by a huge magnet (think of the 007 movie “You Only Live Twice”) hovers overhead, and Toorop climbs in the back and it flies him away to the Noelite Convent in Mongolia. Toorop meets Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh of “Tomorrow Never Dies”) and she stipulates three rules. First, she must accompany Aurora. Second, Aurora must avoid all contact with the real world. Third, Toorop must not use profanity. Toorop laughs off Rebeka’s demands but lets her join them. Our heroes reach a train station in Troitsk, Kazakhstan, at the Russian border, and ride the rails to the Bering Straits. They have two minutes to board a Russian submarine. To avoid satellite surveillance systems, the Russian submarine submerges with people still climbing aboard. Aurora tries to take command of the sub, but Toorop thwarts her efforts. Neither Sister Rebeka nor Toorop can figure out why the teenager can operate a 30-year old submarine. Rebeka reveals that Aurora spoke 19 different languages when she was two years old. Later, our heroes deploy on ski bikes and dodge missile-laden, machine gun equipped drones that try to pick them. Toorop is wounded and his pal Finn (Mark Strong) wants to let him die, kill Rebeka, and take Aurora. Toorop surprises Finn and kills him. “Don’t trust anybody,” Toorop quips. They arrive in Canada and then fly to New York where Toorop is supposed to hand Aurora over to the religious zealots Noelites.

“Gothika” director Mathieu Kassovitz and scenarists Eric Besnard and Joseph Simas have contrived an ordinary but visually exotic adventure that doesn’t deviate from the formula one iota. Ostensibly, this futuristic thriller was derived from Maurice Georges Dantec’s novel “Babylon Babies.” Indeed, the film bristles with violence, i.e., the usual small arms fire, fistfights, and explosions, but nothing really horrifying happens. Heads are not blown off bodies, limbs torn off, or anything like that. What can you make of a Vin Diesel actioneer when the hero skins and cooks an animal and then before digging into it pauses to pray.

In other words, “Babylon A.D.” is an offbeat tale set in a dystopian future. Again, there are several interesting set-pieces. The two-minute rush to board a Russian sub, the helicopter that lugs the car, etc. all looks cool, but any exposition or background has been jettisoned. We know precious little about the characters, for example, Toorop’s cynicism and the new world. Essentially, in cutting down the plot, Fox destroyed any continuity and “Babylon A.D.” makes little sense, even with its last minute revelations about a power hungry religious zealot.

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