Brimming with hollow ambition, Babylon A.D. is a half-cooked bit of science fiction entertainment that continually falls short in both the smarts and testosterone departments. Simmering when it should sizzle, and confounding when it should astound, this troubled production sadly does not prove its many critics wrong -- including its helmer, Mathieu Kassovitz. Publicly condemning the film and the studio just before the release, the director painted a thoroughly troubled production that never was given the chance to flourish, thanks to studio interference during shooting and beyond (the film was pared down at least 15-minutes for its American release). Needless to say, the theatrical cut shows acute signs that something definitely went wrong with this quite splendid looking future tale. For all its barely discernable lofty goals, the pic ends up to be nothing more than flawed Hollywood gloss -- albeit a fascinating one at that.
Though a mess, it's possible that clunky productions like this can float due to the energy brought to it by its star. Unfortunately, Vin Diesel is not the person to carry the weight of what must have started out as a thinking man's sci-fi action piece. The lackadaisical luster that he embodies is wrong from the get-go. With listless rhythm and a macho strut, he's the epitome of motivation gone wrong -- which could be said about much of the film. Is it a brainy sci-fi yarn or simply a threadbare excuse to muscle in action scenes for its brawny actor every 20-minutes? The rest of the cast sadly doesn't elevate the drama too much one way or another. Mélanie Thierry would have come off better as a mute, while Michelle Yeoh continues her year of being tragically misused (after adding very little to The Mummy 3). Only Gérard Depardieu seems to relish his role (complete with a ghastly fake nose), but even then, there's very little else that is equally as over-the-top for his thuggish Mafioso to play off of.
As far as ideas go, the picture has been skewered for its "injecting A.I. into babies" plotline, yet even that is not outside of forward sci-fi thinking -- it's the poor execution of that thought -- and all of the unanswered questions that arise because of it - that deserves far more critique. The same goes for the fascinating church and state questions that the film barely focuses on. Even worse are the herky-jerky, cut cut cut action scenes filled with furious movement and frantic lighting that do little but confuse the viewer. Add into the mix the now stereotypical Euro-sensibilities of a hero protecting the innocent (ala: Fifth Element as well as the film's forefather, Children of Men) and all of the dead weight that comes with that and one has an incredibly disjointed cinematic experience. What's interesting is that not all of the production is a train wreck -- when it works, the film showcases a knack for future gadgetry that could be taken as quite smart, if only it served as something more than cursory aesthetics. By the time Vin gets a robo hand at the end, the neat throwback to the days of cyberpunk ends up serving very little purpose other than to remind the audience of how unnecessary the details are when they add up to something as soulless as Babylon A.D..