Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Netflix Queue…’Babylon A.D.’

Boy it’s been a while since I’ve seen Vin Diesel in anything worth mentioning. To me, Boiler Room was his very best work. Why do you ask?? Because the movie wasn’t centered around him, that’s why. I may be alone in thinking this but he doesn’t have the chops to carry a film all by himself, and so he makes more of an impression when playing a bit part or part of, and I use the phrase loosely, an ensemble…i.e. Saving Private Ryan and Boiler Room. Admittedly I liked Pitch Black but that was a bit of an anomaly. In short,  Babylon A.D. was yet another lack luster Vin Diesel vehicle that didn’t play out as well as trailer would make you think. It wasn’t totally forgettable but it still had trouble rising above the very weak parts of the film.

Because I don’t have the time or energy to write my own pithy account of the film’s plot, I’ll refer you to the IMDb write-up which gets the job done: “In a near future, the mercenary Toorop is hired by the powerful criminal Gorsky to bring a woman named Aurora from a Noelite Convent in Central Asia to New York. In return, he would receive a high amount of money and a clear passport. Toorop joins Aurora and her guardian Sister Rebeka and they cross the dangerous Russia chased mercenaries that also want Aurora. Along their journey, Toorop discovers that Aurora has special abilities and once in New York, they see on the news that the Noelite Convent has been just bombed. When Aurora discloses that she is virgin and pregnant of twins, Toorop realizes that there is something dirty behind and Sister Rebeka and he will not be left alive by Gorsky.”

Now I will say that I kind of liked this movie…in parts that is. While this isn’t a terrible movie (there were some very cool scenes) this still wasn’t that great either. Babylon A.D. suffered quite a bit from not knowing which way it was supposed to go. Without much of a back story, Vin is protecting this girl (who nearly has superpowers) as he and Michelle Yeoh attempt to “smuggle” her into the U.S. Now, for a man as rich as Gérard Depardieu‘s character, why not just fly this girl to some private airstrip yourself, pay off some officials and leave Vin alone? Also, the one reason I gave this a try was because Mark Strong was said to be in it. Strong had about 35 minutes of screen time and gave a pretty forgettable performance sadly…but on the bright side, so did Russell Crowe in Virtuosity. Gotta start somewhere right? I really didn’t think Vin did too bad with his role. Sure he’s nearly the same in all his films but I think what saved him from earning a Razzie was that he didn’t go overboard with his acting. If he had amped up his intensity he could have seemed too guttural and bear like which was not the right direction for someone who is supposed to be a product of a life of quasi-military lifestyle.

The plot seemed disjointed and it spent far too much time on heightened and tense portions of their journey but no clear reasoning of things or trying to establish who the girl was or why she was being transported. Essentially Vin was a cabbie…well more like a bodyguard but the could care less attitude of a cabbie. Michelle Yeoh would tell Vin things about the girl but they didn’t really help put things into perspective. If  they took the time to tell the audience why she was so important in the first place maybe the journey would have been more meaningful and you could have felt something for the characters. Instead, it was like Vin on a delivery run for a meat packing company.

One portion of the film I should have liked was the Parkour segment, but ultimately it was just a waste. After the cinematic success in films like B-13 and Casino Royale, this should have been cool. To see the lame free-running, I thought it was like the a bunch of amateur stuntmen pretending to free-run, but to see that an actual “practicing” free-running team was hired for this film made me think the producers wasted their money. They could have gotten a bunch of 15 year olds running around and you’d essentially have the same effect. Let me get something straight. Free running is not fighting, and also, what is the point of free running when the escape scene makes they group look like fleeing rats?

Yet, the one element that was even more mis-cast, mis-used and poorly executed above all else was the presence of Michelle Yeoh. Now this woman was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The House of Flying Daggers. She is a talented and gifted martial artist. But the director of photography, the cameraman and the choreographer (still not convinced one existed on set) should all be shot. The fight scenes were pathetic because of two reasons: 1. the cameraman didn’t know how to “zoom out” while filming or 2. No one except Michelle Yeoh knew how to fight, so it looked like they just zoomed in and hoped no one would notice the cluster fuck of action that unfolded. A bit harsh I know but I’m just telling you like it is.

I would have liked to read the novel “Babylon Babies” to understand just what the hell was going on in this film. I take that back, I knew what was going on, I just wish I could have had some more exposition. My thoughts are that the film focused too much attention to a boring journey of the girl and did not give us enough understanding of the who and why of the people pursuing her. The film suffered from focusing on the unimportant elements hoping flash and action would make up for poor pacing and story. To make this a success I believe it could have been a miniseries or a TV show, not a movie. I thought 105 minutes should have been enough time to tell the story…it wasn’t.

I did however like a lot more elements of the film than I thought. One exceptional portion of the movie was how it fore-casted just how commercialized our society may become. I found the inference that almost every commodity could be opened up to a free market system “that” future bold yet probable and grinned upon seeing the airliners and even entire skyscrapers (a blatant nod to Blade Runner) became merely advertising canvas. With a generous heart, I’d say that with an 85% believability rate, the production crew “got” the future in most other aspects of the movie.

For example, they made Eastern Europe look even more dirty inferring that that area of the world would NEVER recover. Next up, seemingly important people continually moving around in mobile armored transports, although no clear authoritative military presence seemed to exist. The map Vin Diesel looked at in the trunk of the car seemed to have taken the idea of the “zoom” feature on the iPhone and made it work on an actual (paper) map….very cool. The ideas of both refugee movements and rampant mercenary militarization were also kind of a nod to Mad Max but worked OK by me. The overblown population projection for New York City possibly modeled after Tokyo’s over growth was a nice touch, and even the idea that water is still scarce creating a “pay as you go” system of use in hotels and other establishments. All these examples combined to make me both eagerly await, and also fear the future.

That said, the one thing about the future that I have always found problem with was how some people imagine the future. Who was the first person to say from a mountain top “In order to have a movie about the future you need to have one to 2 people in power wearing all white, and try to cram as many “blue” lights in to things we use everyday…that shall make it futuristic“? That goes beyond this movie and is really a problem I have with all sci-fi films.

In the end, the sum of the parts (which individually some were just awesome) does not warrant a passing grade. If the futurist vision of this world has told me anything, Vin Diesel will not be the savior of the world (or win an Oscar), but he may just have another good movie or two in him.

G-S-T Ruling: 2/5

G-S-T Seal of Approval: DENIED