In the not-too-distant future, mercenary Toorop (Diesel) is hired to transport a cloistered girl (Thierry) from Russia to sanctuary in the US. The package is more than she seems, however, and several interested parties want to get their hands on her.
There was a time when Vin Diesel was a shoo-in as Hollywood’s premier tough guy. But thanks to a string of camp-as-you-like roles, the perception was short-lived. Diesel hadn’t so much put a dampener on his hard man image as drowned it in a bucket of rose water. But the asphalt-gargling opening voiceover here (a direct throwback to Pitch Black) heralds the return of Macho Vin, a gruff force of nature who cracks heads, breaks bones and racks up a fair bodycount during the film’s happily short runtime. Unfortunately, the star’s return to fighting form is the sole consolation from an otherwise garbled sci-fi yarn.
Based on French novel Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec, Babylon A. D. is a vision of the future awash with dystopian clichés. Life is cheap, resources are scarce, bloodsports entertain the masses. Through this sea of human refuse, Diesel’s mercenary drags comely naïf Aurora - played by a pouty Mélanie Thierry - across the frozen North to safety/destruction in New York. Thierry veers from horrified shellshock to moral outrage depending on what’s blowing up/who’s being gunned down at the time. Michelle Yeoh provides emotional variance as Aurora’s guardian nun, but her verbal sparring with the uncouth Toorop fails to survive beyond a couple of exchanges, leaving the relationship between all three protagonists distant and disinterested.
Arguably, action’s more important than emotional nuance here, and that is at least plentiful. Diesel barrels through the film waving fists and firearms, gamely hurling himself into a cage fight, an Arctic chase sequence and a shootout in Manhattan traffic. But the fights are competent rather than exhilarating, which is a problem given the incoherence of the narrative. The film seems unable to decide upon a plot or a MacGuffin, and veers unsteadily between a less tongue-in-cheek Transporter and a futuristic Golden Child. Kassovitz seems to give up on narrative altogether in the final act and caps the story with a flat climax (if anyone knows what happens to Charlotte Rampling, let us know) and a bewildering coda.
Still, if you’re in the market for some unsophisticated Diesel power you may find this a guilty pleasure - if only to see a weirdly overdubbed Gérard Depardieu sipping cocktails in the back of a pimped-out armoured personnel carrier/sex pad.
Brawny but brainless techno-twaddle.