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Babylon A.D.

A Not-So-Fine Mess

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mathieu Kassovitz has seen better days. After scoring best director honors at Cannes for 1995’s La Haine, his gritty depiction of life on the mean streets of Paris --followed by a memorable acting turn as Audrey Tautou's beau in Amélie -- the French auteur nurtured Babylon A.D. for five years before watching 20th Century Fox slice and dice his footage into something painfully short on continuity and coherence. He has since condemned the project as “a terrible experience", and dismissed the film as “pure violence and stupidity.”

He's half right. Babylon’s violence isn’t really gratuitous (though there’s plenty to spare), but the story is mired in narrative quicksand and populated by characters whose motives range from murky to nonexistent. Consider an early scene in which a small battalion surrounds Toorop, the hulking mercenary played by Vin Diesel. Words are exchanged. Toorop disarms their leader, blows off his head and surrenders. Should they kill him? Incarcerate him? No, they let him walk. No biggie.

Soon, Toorop is commissioned by a Russian mobster named Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu, sporting a laughable prosthetic nose) to smuggle a package from war-torn Eastern Europe to New York. Babylon A.D. is set in the not-too-distant future, when most of the world has been reduced to bombed-out warehouses surrounded by massive billboards, but residents of the Big Apple can take heart: Manhattan remains an industrious mecca, plastered with enough neon to invite comparison with Blade Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles.

Toorop's package is Aurora, a young woman (Mélanie Thierry) seemingly inspired by Milla Jovovich's post-apocalyptic warrior princess from The Fifth Element. Aurora is deeply troubled, and you would be too if you could feel the rest of the world’s pain and foretell impending disasters. (Apparently, she did not anticipate Babylon A.D.) Aurora is something extraordinary -- a messiah, perhaps, or a biological weapon armed with a deadly virus -- but the root and extent of her powers is explained hastily and not very clearly.

I believe Kassovitz when he says Babylon A.D. began as a more serious meditation on the future of a world ravaged by political irresponsibility, even if his choice of leading men -- Diesel’s caveman-like frame seems suited to his brusque, charmless persona -- suggests a less cerebral exercise. Inspired by cyberpunk novelist Maurice Georges Dantec’s Babylon Babies, the film unfolds like a low-rent retread of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, which had emphatic ideas about genetic engineering, authoritarian governments and their affiliation with organized religion. Babylon A.D. has ideas, too, but they are hopelessly lost in a story with no interior logic.