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Babylon A.D. / ** (PG-13)Posted Monday, September 1, 2008, at 10:45 PM
Vin Diesel and Michelle Yeoh fight for the summer's final box office bucks in the sci-fi thriller "Babylon A.D."
America and France have always shared a strange symbiotic relationship. Strange in that we like to act like we hate each other, but we both enjoy the same tastes. From this relationship is born a film like "Babylon A.D." Financed by an American studio, made by a French director with an American star, populated by some of the biggest name French stars in supporting roles, and with a Chinese martial arts star thrown into the mix; it seems this movie should please everyone. Yet it doesn't.
Just weeks before its scheduled release in February, 20th Century Fox decided to push the release back to later in the summer months. But they didn't move it to the summer based upon their confidence that it would be a blockbuster. No, they dumped in the place where bad movies go to die--the final weekend in August. They sited necessary edits as the reason for the delay.
I'm sure the ensuing months were filled with nasty arguments between the film's director Mathieu Kossovitz ("Gothika") and the studio heads about what type of picture it was. Nasty arguments are pretty much standard territory for any treaties entered into between America and France. Even this last week Kossovitz was in the press complaining that the studio had cut 15 minutes from the film he deemed essential to its success. He may have been right.
But enough about the tumultuous relations between the US and France. This is one of those stories that take place in the "not-too-distant future." Toorop (Vin Diesel, "The Chronicles of Riddick") is a mercenary living off the ravaged societal leftovers of a dystopian Russian landscape. He is employed by a gangster named Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu, "La Vie en Rose") to transport a young woman to New York City. Aurora (Mélanie Thierry, "Pu-239") has lived her entire life in an isolated convent; and when Toorop arrives to take her, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emporer") insists on coming along.
There is an atmosphere to the movie that is like a cross-pollinating of "Children of Men" with "The Fifth Element" and a little "Minority Report". Kossovitz places iconic sci-fi imagery throughout the film, like when Toorop travels to the convent in a car that is being airlifted by a helicopter, or the interior of Gorsky's armored car, which is lined with real-time flat screen televisions acting as windows. But most of these images seem to be thrown in just for effect without much practical purpose.
Of course along the way, our heroes run into many obstacles to prevent them from reaching New York. Two groups of people seem to be after Aurora, the same church running the convent which raised her, lead by the High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling, "Swimming Pool"), and a group of mercenaries working for a man who claims to be her allegedly deceased father (Lambert Wilson, "Catwoman"). Aurora seems to have a special power and purpose that remains a mystery until the film's final act, and it is questionable as to just how much Sister Rebeka knows about the church's reasons for wanting Aurora in New York.
There isn't much here that hasn't been explored before in better movies, although there is the potential for much more. What could have been a deep philosophical allegory on the potential corruption of faith through organized religion is whittled down to little more than a cat and mouse chase movie. Where the theological ramifications of the movie's philosophy could have been reflected in the dystopian state of this future world, the images of society's future shortcomings are shown to the audience more for shock value than as any sort of mirror to our own reality.
As a chase picture "Babylon A.D." is not done entirely without its own style and directorial skill. Kossovitz does a good job keeping the kinetic energy of the film on a full tilt. His camera rarely stops moving, and there are some intense action sequences, such as the fight scene in a nightclub where the cage matches are to the death and the pursuants jump around like monkeys on the catwalks, or the final road battle between the heroes in their Hummers and the villains in their Range Rovers. But there is too much under the surface here to restrict the story solely to its the action elements.
It seems there must have been more to "Babylon A.D." that was cut out during the editing process. It wouldn't be the first time a Hollywood studio didn't trust the material handed them by a film's director. But even in the scenes that remain in tact, it seems the filmmakers don't entirely buy into their own rhetoric. There is a line spoken by Aurora to Toorop in the final scene that betrays the gigantic implications of what they have achieved. He says her name, and she points out that it is the first time he has ever spoken it. By this point, not only is the fact that he cares for her a given, but it is immaterial in regard to the theological consequences of their actions
For more content on this film visit A Penny in the Well.
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.