DVD Release Date:  January 6, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  August 29, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  90 min.
Director:  Mathieu Kassovitz
Actors:  Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Gerard Depardieu, Charlotte Rampling, Joel Kirby

Vin Diesel is back. Did you miss him?

No, neither did I, although I enjoyed his little-seen turn two years ago as a gangster who provides his own legal defense in director Sidney Lumet’s poorly marketed and quietly released Find Me Guilty. The actor, known for action-movie roles (xXx, The Chronicles of Riddick) and one kid-friendly comedy (The Pacifier), can be funny and disarming when he isn’t playing a traditional tough guy.

Alas, Find Me Guilty was a flop, so the actor is back to brutish roles. In Babylon A.D. he plays Toorop, a mercenary in a post-apocalyptic future who agrees to transport a mysterious young woman, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), from a monastery in Mongolia to New York City. Along for the journey is her protector, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), who insists on two things from Toorop. First, he is to protect his charge from seeing, hearing and feeling anything that would break through her heretofore sheltered existence and worldview. Second, he must use “no foul language.”

You can imagine how he reacts to that second charge.

The muscular mercenary accepts the job with his own condition: “I’m not your friend. I’m not your brother” he tells Rebeka and Aurora. He doesn’t understand why Aurora is so important, but he knows that the shady Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) is willing to pay him a vast amount of money to carry out the mission. Aurora, born into a religious sect headed by a mysterious High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling), carries a secret that, once revealed upon her arrival in New York, will transform the world. Toorop isn’t interested in the details, only the payday. He asks no questions. Viewers might, however, beginning with the old chestnut, “Why does every international character speak perfect English?” and continuing with, “Why did I pay 10 bucks to see this?

Despite declarations of emotional distance and cold motives, Toorop, Rebeka and Aurora will, of course, slowly bond as they dodge danger, travel across the continents, and beat back mysterious forces who know Aurora’s secret and want to exploit it.

Babylon A.D. is not fresh or original. Its bleak futuristic look offers a few captivating moments but is, for the most part, a faint echo of Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner, while its storyline has similarities to the more recent, and far superior, Children of Men. Also, the film has been publicly disowned by its director, Matthieu Kassovitz, who accuses the studio behind the movie of altering it far beyond the director’s vision of the project. Following such public discord, viewers might expect a train wreck of the first order. (It’s useful to remember the outcry over Blade Runner, which also was ripped from its director and altered by the studio, but which became a classic even in its studio-finalized version. A later “director’s cut” is preferred by many—but not all—of the film’s fans).

It’s safe to say that Babylon A.D. is no Blade Runner. It falls apart toward the end, during the stretch set in New York that includes an ill-advised scene of intimacy between Toorop and Aurora, and it adds lots of confusing explanations by superfluous characters. But for much of its running time, it’s at least diverting. Yeoh is a fabulous screen presence even in generic Hollywood junk (see the summer’s earlier Mummy sequel), and the film’s visuals includes a few memorable images.