September 4, 2008

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Babylon A.D. (PG-13)
Vin Diesel is a gruff-voiced mercenary (when isn’t he?) in the bewildering science-fiction-ish action movie Babylon A.D.

I must admit that the first time someone read me the plot for this movie I experienced whatever the auditory equivalent of your eyes glazing over is. Actually seeing this movie offered no greater insight. Because of some technical difficulties at the theater where I saw this, I didn’t see some of the title cards from the opening minutes. The gist seems to be that this is some not-too-distant future where the world (at least most of the world outside of New York City) has gone to hell and a warrior for hire named Toorop (Diesel) is living in some vaguely Russian slum, eking out a living through toughness. A mobster named Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) tells Toorop that he can improve that lot a bit by getting him a new identity that will allow him to return to his home in America. But first, Toorop must transport a girl, Aurora (Mélanie Thierry), from a monastery in central Asia to New York City in the next couple of days. Who is this girl and why does she travel with a minder, the bad-ass Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh)? This, Toorop doesn’t know, doesn’t care to know at first. But the more time he spends with his strange cargo, the more he suspects that she’s something much more important to the world than the pouty-lipped sullen-faced runway model she appears to be.

What is Aurora? By the time the movie has gotten you to an explanation it feels both nonsensical and uninteresting. Babylon A.D. feels like a lot of noise and flash, a lot of scenes of post-apocalyptic despair and corrupt, futuristic wealth all jumbled together in the most distracting way possible, as if that would keep you from noticing that the whole endeavor is a shaky construction on a foundation of sand. The movie itself is shot like its fight scenes — a lot of quick cuts and jittery camera work to make it very hard to actually see who’s fighting whom. I suppose if you know your story doesn’t work, distraction is a good way to cover it, but if even the distraction is boring, then where does the audience member go?

It my case it was to the place of wishing I had bought a diet Coke (this movie needs caffeine) and had enough light to spend my time with a sudoku puzzle during some of the more tedious attempts by Diesel to “act.” If all a movie has going for it is an entertaining lead and a couple of Beyond Thunderdome-ish fight scenes, it should really do its best to let me enjoy them, instead of drowning the cheap fun in a lot of tired effects. D

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz and with writing credits for Eric Besnard, Kassovitz and Joseph Simas (from a novel by Maurice G. Dantec), Babylon A.D. is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.