There was a time, not so long ago, when Vin Diesel was marked as the successor to the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Complete with muscular frame and distinct speech, Diesel made his mark in films such as Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious, and XXX.
But an unwise foray into family territory with The Pacifier, along with his finely tuned turn in Find Me Guilty, saw the action man’s star dim enough to warrant a return to the genre that made him.
Enter Babylon A.D., a sci-fi thriller set in a future entrenched by terrorism and warfare, and where cloning has become common place.
Diesel stars as Torrop, a mercenary living in exile in Russia. The film begins with a clichéd infused, gravely voice over, which clearly states his mantra: kill or be killed; survive or die; and, to hell with the world. He would repeat his stance several times further, in case we forget.
Toorop is summoned by underworld figure Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu), who offers him the chance to return back to America, on the condition that he smuggle a mysterious young lady out of Europe, and deliver her to New York City.
The young lady, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), is some kind of prodigy, who has violent, schizophrenic tendencies, along with supposed prophetic and telekinetic abilities. Hints are dropped that she may hold divine qualities, something of a Mother Mary 2.0, but not enough time is given to properly explore who, or what, she is.
Forever by Aurora’s side is Sister Rebeka. She is played by Michelle Yeoh, which means (of course) that she knows martial arts. After all, we have had a flying nun, so why not a kung fu fighting nun?
Sister Rebeka raised Aurora in a convent, which belongs to the women’s only religion, No Lights, led by the High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling). One would think that Depardieu and Rampling would stay away from such bug budget drivel. Bets are on that they were lured by the opportunity to work with director Mathieu Kassovitz.
Together, Toorop, Aurora, and Sister Rebeka must travel through treacherous terrain in order to reach their destination. While doing so, the film takes on the look of two prominent sci-fi movies: Children of Men, with its clash of a decaying past and advanced, technology fuelled future; and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, with its portrayal of savage communities living in industrial settings.
Countering its grizzly backdrop, are several over the top action sequences that are neither innovative, nor exciting. Call them primal; call them moronic; but what action films should not be are underwhelming and boring.
But unfortunately for Kassovitz and co., poor action sequences are the least of their troubles.
To put it bluntly, Babylon A.D. is a cluttered mess. Characters have been under developed, thus no sympathy or empathy is felt during crucial moments; elements, such as the sexual tension between Toorop and Aurora, have been underwritten and forced upon the audience; and its conclusion feels rushed and leaves too many unresolved questions.
It seems that many of these issues all come down to the creative wrangles between Kassovitz – who spent 5 years developing the project – and 20th Century Fox, who –claims Kassovitz – butchered the film in order to secure a sleek, 90 min run time.
Kassovitz damned the film upon release, which – unsurprisingly – was not screened for critics, nor promoted with any real zeal.
As a result, a black mark has been left on Kassovitz’s filmography – which includes the critically applauded La Haine – and Vin Diesel’s action comeback has been cut short. In turn, he has retreated back to the Fast and the Furious and XXX franchises that made him. Hopefully, for his sake, they work out much better than this dreck.