What’s the inexplicable Diesel power that lures classy actors and actresses into supporting roles in Vin’s terrible action movies? Four years ago Dame Judi Dench, of all people, was featured in the awful “Chronicles of Riddick.” And now Charlotte Rampling and Gerard Depardieu take thankless parts—he’s a mercenary with a huge prosthetic nose, she’s the priestess of a weird religious cult—in the equally wretched “Babylon A.D.” What gives?
Whatever the explanation, this terminally familiar futuristic actioner marks the second genre stumble for writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz, whose “Gothika” (2003) was such a sleazy, jumbled thriller that it even made one feel sorry for acting-challenged star Halle Berry. “Babylon,” adapted from a novel by Maurice G. Dantee, is a sort of combination of “The Transporter” and “Children of Men” that exaggerates the flaws of both while possessing the virtues of neither. It’s a chaotic, dreary bore.
Diesel, giving a performance that seems disinterested even by his standards, plays the unfortunately named Toorop, a mercenary on the U.S. terrorist list who’s living in the rubble of post-Soviet Eastern Europe at some unspecified future date. He’s enticed by sleazy crime kingpin Gorsky (Depardieu) into accepting the job of transporting to New York a strange young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry), who’s been living in a remote convent of the so-called Neolite Order, along with her protector Sister Rebecca (Michelle Yeoh). The trip takes them across several borders to the Big Apple, which looks rather like a series of outtakes from “Blade Runner.” There Toorop learns that the girl’s a ready-made miracle for the ambitious Neolite priestess (Rampling), who claims to be her mother; but he also discovers that Aurora’s so-called father, Darquandier (Lambert Wilson) is alive and wants his daughter, too. The plot also has something to do with experiments involving the implantation of artificial intelligence in fetuses.
In truth the whole business is a ludicrous muddle; maybe it made some sense on the printed page, but it certainly doesn’t on screen. The narrative messiness is mirrored in the sloppiness of the action sequences, which are ineptly choreographed (by Alain Figlarz, among other people), clumsily shot (by Thierry Arbogast) and poorly edited (by Benjamin Weill). There’s a cage fight that goes by in a blur, a snowmobile chase across an icy landscape in which everyone’s so totally encased in camouflage outfits that it’s impossible to tell who’s who, a big set-to on a New York street marked by terrible visual effects (something called Buf Compagnie is culpable), and a last-reel Humvee chase that’s about as rote as can be. Kassovitz evinces absolutely no aptitude for this sort of thing.
Nor for dealing with actors. One can understand not being able to get anything out of a lump like Vin Diesel, but when talented people like Depardieu and Rampling chew the scenery so embarrassingly, there’s something very wrong. Yeoh goes for understatement, which is equally bad, and Thierry is simply terrible, though pretty, especially when she strips down in one scene in which Aurora is inexplicably attracted to Toorop.
The overseas cut of this movie is reportedly ten minutes longer than the one being released in this country; maybe it makes more sense in that form, but you still have to pity the poor Europeans. “Babylon A.D.” is so bad it will make you nostalgic for “The Pacifier.” It should have been called “Babylon D.O.A.”