In the movie critic handbook (yep, we all get one), there are certain assured signs that a movie is going to tank and tank hard. Sometimes, all it takes is a name over a marquee (Rob Schneider!). In other instances, the format (mindless Movie lampoon) foreshadows the flop sweat. Perhaps the surest indication of some certified crap comes from the studio itself. When they fail to screen a film before it opens, even cancelling pre-planned previews to avoid that deadliest of PR pariahs (bad word of mouth), you know you’re in trouble. After the 90 soulless minutes that make up Mathieu Kassovitz's Babylon A.D., you'll never doubt that tome again.
Toorop (Vin Diesel) is a mercenary hired by an old ally, Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) to transport a young girl named Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from Eastern Europe to New York City. In the violent, dystopic world which is the future, she needs someone with Toorop's skills as a smuggler. Along with Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), the trio must traverse crowded train depots, perilous border checkpoints, a trip aboard an old Soviet sub, and a snowmobile ride across a security drone-policed arctic tundra. Once they arrive in America, Toorop finally discovers the purpose of his mission. Aurora is either carrying a deadly disease… or the new messiah. In either case, the evil High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling) will stop at nothing to get her hands on them. Article continues below
More inert than argon gas and given over to obvious directorial hissy fits, Babylon A.D. is like a bad dream a cyberpunk once had after watching Find Me Guilty. Featuring the uniformly emotionless Diesel in an array of pale prison tattoos, and a sadly wasted Yeoh as the mandatory voice of reason, this attempted epic by La Haine/Gothika guide Kassovitz is an unsalvageable, unlikeable mess. It's never entertaining, not even in an oversized ridiculousness or cheesy schlock sort of way. Instead, it just starts, and then sinks like a stone before limping over the finish line. Recent internet buzz has followed the filmmaker's abject frustration with the way Fox meddled with his movie. He claims the calamity is all their fault. After seeing the shockingly poor way Kassovitz worked with what he at least had to start with, the studio can shun a decent percentage of the blame.
Casting is crucial to making this kind of material work, and Diesel is no future warrior. Instead, his Toorop often comes across like a bouncer after a particularly bad night. Unable to register even the smallest amount of complexity, the bulbous badass singlehandedly sucks the life out of every scene he is in -- included the anemic action. Thierry is even worse. As the plot's potential Mary (Typhoid or Virgin), she's a whiny, wounded little brat. When we're introduced to her, she's supposed to be wide-eyed and innocent. By the end, she's so smug and self-righteous we can't wait for her moment of martyrdom. In between tantrums aimed at showing how salient she is, Kassovitz treats her like a prop -- necessary for the narrative but lacking any reason for empathy or concern.
Visually, Babylon A.D. borrows from the post-post-modern end of the world look. That means that skyscrapers are dressed up in silly CGI neon, while the Czech Republic is made to look even blander and more bombed out. There is no rhyme or reason to this version of the world, Kassovitz complaining that suit-mandated cuts cleared out all his carefully planned context. After viewing this truncated take however, there aren't enough cutting room scraps to reconfigure the resulting apocalypse. All excuses aside, this is one time when audiences will wish the world ended sooner. A lot sooner.