One can't help but feel a little bit sorry for Babylon A.D., a movie that's been disowned by its director, ignored by its star and dumped into theatres by its studio during the slowest of the summer's dog days. But as much as I'd like to offer the film some words of encouragement and a pat on the back for effort, I have to concede that it's pretty terrible and not in the "so-terrible-it's-awesome" way of such past late-summer gems as Snakes on a Plane and Neil LaBute's demented Wicker Man remake.
No, Babylon A.D. is just plain bad; it's the kind of film that's such a waste of time and resources, you have to wonder why it was made in the first place. And as tempting as it is to accept director Mathieu Kassovitz's version of what went wrong—namely, that the studio compromised his artistic freedom at every turn, even cutting their own version of the movie in the editing room—based on the elements he had direct control over (such as the performances and the screenplay), it's hard to imagine a director's cut being significantly better.
Although the credits claim that Babylon A.D. is based on the popular French sci-fi novel Babylon Babies, the movie more closely resembles a louder, dumber cousin of Alfonso Cuarón's masterful Children of Men—call it Children of Men 2: This Time It's Twins! Vin Diesel takes over the Clive Owen role as a world-weary cynic who learns to care again after prolonged exposure to a mysterious young woman carrying mankind's future in her uterus. In Babylon A.D., this character's name is Toorop and he's a semi-retired human smuggler forcibly brought out of hiding by Russian mob boss Gorksy (Gérard Depardieu) for a high-paying gig.
Toorop's mission, which he has little choice but to accept, is to transport the lovely Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian Sister Rebecca (Michelle Yeoh) from the Russian wilderness to New York City, where she'll be met by her famous mother (Charlotte Rampling), high priestess of the vaguely Scientology-like Neolite religion. Along the way to the Big Apple, the trio is pursued by an army of goons that seem to be in the employ of Aurora's thought-to-be-dead father (Lambert Wilson), a scientist who for some reason thought it would be a good idea to implant artificial intelligence in human babies. (With an experiment that stupid, he can only be a descendent of Professor Frink from "The Simpsons.") Two of his A.I.-enhanced tykes are currently gestating in Aurora's belly, where they provide their mom with special powers, like the ability to stop a guided missile with her mind. Too bad they aren't also able to make this ridiculous story have a lick of sense.
Joking aside, Babylon A.D. actually gets off to a decent start and there are flashes throughout of the kind of film Kassovitz must have set out to make. As in Children of Men, Babylon offers a vision of the future that is essentially a dilapidated version of the present, where all the impressive technology can't mask how cheap human life has become. Kassovitz seems particularly fascinated by the concept of borders and how much more difficult it becomes to move from country to country in an era of advanced globalization. The film's most memorable scene (or, to be more accurate, its only memorable scene) finds Toorop, Aurora and Sister Rebecca racing dozens of other immigrants to win a spot on the only vessel bound for the Russian border: an ancient Cold War-era submarine where the crew shoots those unlucky enough to make it on in time.
Had Kassovitz (or the editors hired to cut the film on his behalf) actually pursued this thematic thread, it might have made the picture an ambitious failure instead of simply a failure. But any deeper ideas are quickly lost amidst the incomprehensible action sequences, the wooden acting and the nonsensical third act, in which the studio's interference becomes blatantly obvious. (If the last scene makes any sense to you, please post an analysis online so the rest of us can figure out what the heck happened.) We can argue over who is ultimately responsible for this mess until the movie turns up on cable, but the fact is, some films are just doomed to failure from the moment they're green-lit despite the best intentions of everyone involved. Babylon A.D. is one of those films.