Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz. 2008. France. 101mins.
An American mercenary stranded in Eastern Europe finds his ticket back home escorting a very special young lady the 6,000 treacherous miles from a convent in Kazakhstan to the Manhattan of the future in Babylon A.D. Mathieu Kassovitz's ambitious but flawed sci-fi action movie touches on themes from a woman's right to control her own body to the power of American copyright by way of a lot of explosions and fist fights. This occasionally lavish, often clunky venture is consistently watchable if not terribly memorable or distinctive.
The film, adapted from Maurice G Dantec's novel Babylon Babies, has enough visual excitement to entertain undemanding audiences and should post acceptable returns in most markets depending on what else it's up against. Rumour has it European prints are the director's cut while US distributor Fox has the final cut.
While Babylon won't come close to replacing Blade Runner or Children Of Men in anyone's memory bank, it boasts some impressive set pieces, a fitting level of apocalyptic gloom and a worthy if underdeveloped vein of speculation about what happens when man aggressively tampers with the natural order of things.
The intersection of religion and commerce is also on the menu. Classy turns by Michelle Yeoh and Charlotte Rampling create a subtext in which muscled Vin Diesel does the heavy lifting but middle-aged women rule the roost.
Of course, the film can also be read as a straightforward sci-fi thriller about a gun-for-hire aching to retire after one last challenging job. In the opening sequence the camera homes in from outer space on Toorop (Diesel) standing on a dark New York street as his gruff voiceover expresses contempt for the bumper sticker philosophy of 'Save the Planet.'
The action cuts to six days earlier in bombed out 'New Serbia,' where Toorop is established as a taciturn tough guy adept at survival. Crime kingpin Gorsky (Depardieu) makes Toorop an irresistible offer: a handsome fee and a passport-overide device that will enable him to re-enter the US where he's long been banned as a terrorist. All Toorop has to do is safely deliver Aurora (Thierry) to a client in New York.
A virginal young beauty raised from infancy in a really secluded convent, Aurora is an unnerving blend of innocence and preternatural intelligence.
Aurora's inseparable guardian, Sister Rebecca (Yeoh), comes in handy in tight spots ('Just because we're peaceful doesn't mean we're weak.') The exact year is never stated, but we know that Siberian tigers became extinct in 2017. Paper maps now function like computer screens and the population of New York City stands at 32 million.
A surprising event on a Russian submarine, a deadly duel between Toorop and a bloodthirsty wrestler who plays King Kong to Aurora's Fay Wray and a snowmobile chase across hostile territory near the Bering Strait are visual highlights. It is intimated that Aurora might be some sort of human bomb. But - at least for those who haven't read the book - Aurora's real role remains fairly suspenseful.
To its credit, the film so effectively depicts bleak, dangerous settings awash in refugees that the glitz and comfort of New York come as a surprise.
Hunky Diesel adequately anchors one more in a long line of stories about a rugged guy on a mission who changes his mind about how best to fulfill the assignment.
While much of Kassovitz's notoriety rests on his prescient look at the legitimate roots of lower income societal unrest in La Haine, future-set Babylon sometimes feels stale despite elements that should have permitted it to stand out in its own right.
Babylon Films Limited
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. (U.S.A.)
StudioCanal (33) 1 71 35 11 03
Eric Besnard, Mathieu Kassovitz, Joseph Simas (English adaptation)
Jerome Le Banner