Bland action, even worse acting in "Babylon A.D."

BY NOAH DEAN STAHL
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 1, 2008

I try to like Vin Diesel, though perhaps against my better judgment. Yes, he’s the empty vessel that drove the first “Fast and the Furious” movie, not to mention the critical and commercial blunder that was “The Chronicles of Riddick” (2004). But he also starred in the little recognized 2006 Sidney Lumet picture “Find Me Guilty,” and has written and directed several solid shorts. The sympathetic side of me wants to think he has been unfairly molded by the Hollywood machine and thus, viewer expectations of him are slight.

After watching his latest dystopian action opus, “Babylon A.D.,” any sympathy I had for Diesel has disintegrated. Based on the French sci-fi novel “Babylon Babies,” the film muddles prevailing themes of the dangers of scientific experimentation and manipulative power-seekers beyond recognition. The only thing remaining is the overdone high-octane schlock that Diesel is known for.

In “Babylon A.D.,” Diesel stars as Toorop, a reluctant mercenary who is hired to accompany a mysterious girl, Aurora (Mélanie Thierry, “Chrysalis”), and her guardian, the religious matriarch Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”), from Mongolia to New York.

The expository nonsense, complete with generic and unconvincing dialogue, leads us to understand that Aurora is special. Though she has never left the convent in which she was raised, she speaks 19 languages, can operate Russian submarines and even perform minor surgery. But most importantly, she can foresee impending disaster, an ability which comes in handy in keeping the sluggish story on the move.

In the midst of their covert journey across the world, we come to learn that at least two groups are after Aurora: a religious sect known as the Noelites — headed by Aurora’s mother — and a pack of fringe scientists — headed by Aurora’s father. All throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, highly trained, strangely dressed teams of operatives try to forcibly intercept Aurora. Toorop and Rebeka, however, team up and fight. Go figure. It’s a given that Toorop can throw down against the bad guys, but who knew a sweet little nun could do the same?

Aurora, as it turns out, is the result of extensive genetic trial and error and was programmed, if you will, to be pregnant without having any sexual activity. The Noelites seek her out as a means to convert the world to their religious views, Aurora being proof of a deity in her immaculate conception. Unfortunately, there’s far too many lacunae along the way to make this story plausible.

“Babylon A.D.” doesn’t even serve its base purpose of providing mindless entertainment. The bad acting and general reliance upon the weak contrivances of the action and sci-fi genre distract too greatly to derive much enjoyment at all.

Mathieu Kassovitz, the French actor (“Munich”) who directed “Babylon A.D.” deserves some admiration for this, his biggest project to date. But, while he strives for sci-fi noir, unique stylization and adrenaline-pumping action, his efforts fall considerably short.