One should try not to focus on a film's "background" maladies when judging the final product -- frankly there have been tons of "troubled productions" that yielded great films -- but in the case of Matthieu Kassovitz's Babylon A.D., it would be pretty much impossible to ignore the problems ... seeing as they're all right there up on the screen. It's been widely reported that Babylon A.D. suffered through production delays, horrible weather, a lot of over-spending, tons of editorial headaches, and at least one lengthy release hold-up. Based on the widely-acclaimed novel Babylon Babies, this movie version certainly doesn't FEEL like any sort of literary adaptation. What it feels like (and what it actually is) is a very typical Vin Diesel action flick that takes the premise of the brilliant Children of Men, distills it down into coloring book form, and then tosses it back onto the screen with next to nothing in rhyme, reason or cohesion. If you're looking for two or three half-decent action scenes, wait for the DVD because that's all B:AD has to offer. But really, did we actually NEED a brain-dead action version of Children of Men? I say no.
Here Diesel plays -- get this -- a loner mercenary dude who hates everyone. Apparently our story takes place in a stunningly grungy and over-populated futuristic Euro-poverty setting, which you can glean from the dusty, broken-down and shambly production design that permeates the flick. So Angry Loner gets hired to deliver a "special" young girl and her guardian (a nun who somehow knows solid karate) to America, and wouldn't you know it? He slowly starts to become a nice guy. And guess what happens when the package is delivered to evil hands ... could redemption be in store? I don't know. Try renting any one of a hundred other action movies for the same exact question.
To his credit, Kassovitz has a solid eye for action scenes, and even the film's more ridiculous ones manage to pound the pulse just a little. It sure would help if we actually CARED about anyone within the action scenes, but I suppose that's an issue for a better film. On a purely visual and/or kinetic level, Babylon A.D. delivers a few small goods, but nothing worthy of an expensive night out at the movies. And Kassovitz would probably agree with these criticisms, seeing as he's gone public, trashed Fox up and down, and pretty much disowned the film ... but that's just more backroom stuff. Let's stay focused on the actual movie.
Well, it's just about the longest 93 minutes you'll ever spend with a movie, I can tell you that. For all of Kassovitz's attempts at Blade Runner futurism and socio-political commentary, Babylon A.D. comes off as little more than familiar, redundant, unnecessary and stupid. Every small nugget of subtext has been trampled beneath bullets, explosions, and Diesel's perpetual bellowing -- and what's most irritating is that Vin probably looked at the original source material and THOUGHT he was doing a half-decent movie. He wasn't. Which is why we'll soon be seeing the guy in Fast and Furious Part 4. I think the guy's a fine enough action star ... I just can't remember the last movie he made that I liked. Here he's stuck offering the typical tough-guy platitiudes like "Mercy is for the weak," "Kill or be killed," and "Gawwaarghh! (Blam! Blam!) Get away from the GIIIIIIIRRRRRLLLLL!!!!!!"
And nowhere are the film's editorial screwups more evident than where "the girl" is involved. Played by the lovely French actress Melanie Thierry, "Aurora" is (at varying moments) a wizard, a robot, a little sister, a potential lover, and (I dunno) God herself. Frankly if you can bother to follow all the late-arriving exposition that arrives near the END of Act III, then you're probably a film professor who's planning to use this flick in your next lecture on how NOT to edit a film. And pity poor, classy Michelle Yeoh, stuck here spouting typical wisdoms and (eventually) swingin' a roundhouse like only a futuristic nun can. One can only assume that, given the budget, everyone was pretty well-paid on Babylon A.D. The audience members are offered no such silver lining.
In most cases I'd say "Hey, maybe the Unrated Director's Cut will fix some of the problems," but considering that Mr. Kassovitz has burned a lot of bridges on the Fox lot ... I wouldn't hold my breath, action fans. As a whole, Babylon A.D. isn't worth much at all. I do, however, see a few of its action scenes working well as Blu-Ray reference material. But we really should expect more than that from a film that cost about 80 million bucks to produce.