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MOVIE REVIEW

A 'Babylon' (A.D.) revisited

The sci-fi adventure offers the usual violence with a too-confusing plot.

September 01, 2008|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

The gritty world-weariness that informs the first 10 minutes of the new sci-fi adventure "Babylon A.D." promises something along the lines of the daring, socially inquisitive "Children of Men," with the bonus of Vin Diesel killing people. Unfortunately, the film quickly degenerates into chases and gunfights and not much else.

This is not a terrible movie, but it's too familiar by half and too confusing by a third. Director Mathieu Kassovitz, best known stateside as Audrey Tautou's love interest in "Amelie" but also respected in Europe as a filmmaker ("La Haine"), does have a vision beyond the usual genre schlock. He presents a casually hopeless future in the movie's opening segment in a rugged, desperate Russia, the ugly other side of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner."

The film, however, soon settles into a worn-out tale of a sullen bruiser (Diesel) reluctantly escorting a mysterious, angelic young person (Melanie Thierry), to a far-off destination -- the promised land of New York.

Along for the ride is the girl's loyal guardian, a nun in an emerging religion who happens to be a martial arts expert (the always-intriguing Michelle Yeoh). Bad guys, betrayals, a hint of parkour -- yawn.

"Babylon" feels like an almost random pastiche of good and bad. There may be a deadly virus, or genetic engineering, or a virgin birth, or some combination of all, it's not clear.

There definitely are confounding set-piece fights, in which people don't take cover as bullets fly, and the sudden disappearance of the futuristic vision expressed early on.

The ending is abrupt. It follows a confusing final 20 minutes that imply a higher striving that may have been present in the source novel ("Babylon Babies"), but on screen there is merely that improbable gun battle and further echoes of "Blade Runner."

The film is in English, but one suspects something was lost in translation anyway: The French cut is reportedly about 10 minutes longer than the American edit's 91.

Kassovitz and the studio are apparently feuding over the finished product. There may be an interesting director's cut DVD down the line, but this theatrical version is less than riveting.

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"Babylon A.D." MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In general release.

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