Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Babylon AD (2008)

My notes on Babylon AD

In a familiarly grim future, mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) is hired by mafia boss Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu, with a putty nose of a fakeness unseen since the demise of Orson Welles) to escort angelic teenager Aurora (Melanie Thierry, in a role remarkably like her turn in Chrysalis) and martial arts nun Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh, who needs to change her agent after this and The Mummy Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) from a convent in Mongolia to a ‘Noelist’ cult in New York, where a cgi-botoxed high priestess (Charlotte Rampling) has great, sinister plans. Given how important the girl is supposed to be and how powerful the cult is, it’s amazing that – rather than charter a private jet to get the girl to New York in hours — the tricky six-day mission is entrusted to one lone man who has to harry and hustle the women through edgy crowds, past terrorist attacks, onto filthy Russian trains, through a nightclub where cagefights to the death pass for entertainment, in with a huddle of refugees onto a post-Soviet submarine, across the frozen wastes on jetskis pursued by robot drone mini-fighter planes, and to a luxurious apartment in Harlem for a handover which he then botches.

Between the expected fights, betrayals (good rule of thumb – never trust anyone played by Mark Strong), stunts, futuristic gadgetry (nifty foldable e-maps, injectable passports) and explosions, hard-bitten, tattooed and scarred action man Toorop shows his inner softie and starts worrying what his employers intend to do with the package, while Aurora (who has a kinship with River Tam from Serenity) has wild mood swings, psychic flashes, sudden bursts of surprising skill (controlling a submarine, battlefield medicine) and in one queasy scene is on the point of getting it on with the hero just as the disapproving nun comes to the door. The French release is reportedly ten minutes longer, but I suspect it doesn’t solve the film’s problems – once it gets to New York and catches up with a teaser that finds the hero on the point of death, the straight-ahead conspiracy plot falls apart in a messy three-way battle between mafia bikers, Noelist suits and our heroes. Then, the girl’s scientist ‘father’ (Lambert Wilson, wearing life-support devices) shows up with a faction (an indoor parkour gang who tried to snatch Aurora earlier, and now turn out to have been goodies all along) who want to keep the girl (a virgin pregnant with twins) away from her wicked ‘mother’ (Charlotte). A revived Toorop gets the job and this epic struggle between enormously wealthy factions is resolved with a car chase between six black vehicles in upstate New York – after which, the surviving and highly-motivated villainess apparently just gives up (though she gets the film’s biggest laugh by nuking Depardieu) and leaves the now family-oriented Toorop and Aurora to raise the kids unbothered in a rural idyll.

Distilled by director Mathieu Kassovitz from Babylon Babies, a big, respected French science fiction novel by Maurice G. Dantec, this comes across as Children of Men lite (indeed, it’s a mirror image since that was based on a worthless high profile novel by an author who could only imitate science fiction) with licks from every Jean-Claude Van Damme or Jason Statham quickie thrown in. Despite good scenes with parkour, the submarine and the smart missiles, it’s bitty as an action movie, thin as a dystopian vision and faintly gigglesome as a cartoon of a hardnut’s redemption.


One thought on “Film review – Babylon AD (2008)

  1. Valerie Laws
    As I’ve said in my status, my Odeon email says ‘if you like Blade Runner, you’ll love this.’ Oh please. Thanks for this crit Kim, if anything you’re too kind in not focusing on Vin D’s acting, usually more fake and putty-like than Gerard’s nose. He’s another of those ‘big bloke carved out of meat’ types they will keep putting into films.
    BTW I did enjoy Hellboy 2, I really like the eponymous hero much to my own surprise, he’s like frankenstein’s monster for pathos but funny with it.

    Kim Newman
    Hmnn, I’d go with ‘if you vaguely remember Terminus, The Ultimate Warrior or any one of a dozen identikit dystopias, you might as well see this too …’

    Octavio Aragão
    Kim, your review just cemented my opinion about this failure. Now a question: what the hell is Depardieu thinking? First 1001 Dalmatians, then The Man in the Iron Mask and now this? What´s next? A Lorenzo Lamas direct to video flick? Talk about a downhill career…

    Valerie Laws
    One is reminded of that little parody of the ‘poem lovely as a tree’: it goes, ‘I think that I shall never view/
    a french film without gerard depardieu’. Now he’s all over the place. Talk about middle aged spread…

    Octavio Aragão
    But I keep thinking what kind of weird occurrence could possibly join so different guys like Vin Diesel, Depardieu, Rampling, Yeoh and a book like Babylon Babies in one same project. Go figure!

    Fábio Fernandes
    I wonder if the book is good. I bought it just the other day, but the concept of “identikit dystopias” gives me the heebejebies (on the other hand, Jumper the book is a nice and entertaining story, but the movie is utter crap)

    Posted by kimnewman | March 8, 2022, 12:31 pm

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