December 27, 2012

Babylon AD

I'd really like shit filmmakers to stop hiring Michelle Yeoh. Despite Yeoh's having proven she can actually act, nobody ever hires her for that. Western filmmakers not named Ron Moore only put Asian people in the cast when they need somebody to look convincing doing kung fu onscreen. It's a sad reality, but I've been forced to accept it. And as far as Asian people who look convincing doing kung fu onscreen, you can do a lot worse than Yeoh. Yet shit filmmakers put her in their movies and then hardly let her do any kung fu. Come on, I know it's too much to ask to allow her to act or portray an actual character, but at least let her kung fu somebody. Christ, first, That Mummy Movie with Jet Li in It, and now Babylon AD. Remember That Mummy Movie? The one that has Li, who holds some kind of speed record for punching and at age 9 demonstrated kung fu in front of the Emperor himself, fight Yeoh for 20 seconds, tops, in slow motion? Two of the most beloved movie martial artists of modern times, barely onscreen together and filmed in slo-mo. Brilliant! You've done it again, Hollywood! Well, they had to make room for more scenes of Brendan Fraser mugging like a jackass.

Babylon AD is a French-American co-production that combines the worst aspects of both countries' big-budget filmmaking industries. It stars Vin Diesel as the hilariously named Toorop, a holdover from the French novel on which this film is allegedly based, though I doubt even a French novel could possibly suck as hard as this movie. Though it does eventually wear off, it was pretty funny at first to watch a man who is legitimately able to get people to call him "Vin Diesel" being forced to answer to the name "Toorop". Anyway, Toorop is your typical mercenary who's only in it for the money until the protagonist brings out his hidden heart of gold and he begins to Care Again. We are introduced to Toorop in what I think is supposed to be a dystopian future Russia, what with Toorop hacking up a dead cat to fry up for dinner and people openly selling military-grade small arms in the street, but frankly it looks like the Russia of today to me. Toorop is hired by Russian gangster Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu--I'm so not kidding) to deliver a person to New York City. In exchange, Toorop will receive lots of money and a passport allowing him re-entry into the Empire, from which he has been barred. I hope you caught that quick bit about passports in the future being issued by means of neck injection, or you'll be very confused by the scene in which a naked Diesel puts a hypospray to his throat right before the Virgin Mary tries to seduce him before her handler's virgin alarm goes off. (More on that last bit later.)

A helicopter carrying an old car by means of a suspended giant magnet arrives to carry Toorop to the remote Mongolian monastery that houses the package, a rail-thin pale teenaged girl with the oh-so-twee name of Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) and her adopted mother Sister Rebekah (Yeoh). I guess helicopters in the future became a lot more fuel-efficient. Toorop balks at taking a second person along, but since Sister Becky is played by Michelle Yeoh, even Diesel backs down and agrees to take her, too, but not before establishing that it's just a job to him and he doesn't care and if they get out of line he'll abandon them, yadda yadda I'm-in-it-for-the-money, let's move on. A series of--well, adventures isn't really the word--a series of incidents takes place, as our troupe struggles to make it from one stolen-from-Children of Men setpiece to the next . Highlights include a Russian submarine that surfaces underneath an ice sheet (which I'm pretty sure is a nautical no-no) to pick up as many refugees fleeing Russia as can get on board before it submerges two minutes later, a group of men allegedly sent by Aurora's allegedly deceased father to get her back (apparently these are the only men in Russia who didn't think to pack heat), and Canada's borders being patrolled by robotic flying drones that destroy anything that approaches the magical wonderland of Canadia. I guess the Empire lost control of Alaska, or perhaps Alaska ceased to exist entirely.

Said drones, despite being deployed under the nominal sovereignty of Canada, seem to in fact be American drones, since one of them blasts thousands of rounds of ammunition and a number of missiles at Diesel's snowski without hitting him until he gets bored with the scene and destroys it with a single shot from his sidearm. But the director thought that was a tad anticlimactic, so Toorop destroys the second drone by flying through the air and crashing his snowski into it! Yeah, that was so much easier than shooting it one time with your pistol like you did the first one. It's not like the next scene has you throwing unfired bullets away before you reach the Canadian/Imperial border so you can safely pass through customs. Stupid movie.

Now my little droogies, I'd like to introduce the dramatic rule known as Chekov's Gun. It goes more or less like this: If you have a loaded gun in a scene, it must be fired at some point, else don't put it there. Now, people being stupid, they generally misunderstand the Gun as meaning the opposite of what it actually means, like how later generations inverted the central theme of Romeo and Juliet or Stevenie Meyer made "sour grapes" mean jealousy of success instead of rationalizing failure. That is, they think the Gun means you have to foreshadow things, and so bad film critics--which is most of them--complain that the rule has been violated when a film suddenly introduces a plot element that hasn't been established. But the gun refers not to failure to foreshadow but to failure to follow through on foreshadowing. If the gun isn't going to go off, don't establish that it's there, i.e., don't leave plot threads dangling.

How is this important to Babylon AD? The movie keeps setting up a moral choice for Toorop through the intimation that Aurora's special powers might be caused by a virus. That's right, she has powers, because, well, it's a French movie with a reedy white girl being protected by a rugged, cynical hardcase, so she's got to have powers and be the key to saving the world from a vague, unexplained but very menacing catastrophe. Her powers consist of seeing the future, "feeling" people die, and abandoning those charged with protecting her to run off with a bunch of strangers who claim they were sent by her father who is dead. Toorop is alarmed that Aurora might be carrying a virus and resolves that if she is, he will kill her rather than risk allowing her to infect others. There's even a scene in which Aurora asks Toorop if he'll really kill her if it turns out she has a virus, and he replies that he hopes he won't have to. Now obviously, she's got a virus so we can get the scene in which we wonder if he will gun down this innocent girl in the name of protecting people from infection. Except we never get that scene because we never find out why she has powers. In fact, she doesn't have the powers at all. She's the Holy Virgin who has nevertheless become pregnant with twins* that will somehow prove the Noelite religion is the One True Religion, and it's actually they who have the powers. So, do they have a virus, then? What is the origin of their powers?

Who the hell knows. This film is nearly as impenetrable as Southland Tales. What is the Noelite religion? I don't know. Aurora and Sister Becca stayed at a Noelite convent, yet it is the Noelites themselves who hired Gorsky (who subcontracted out to Toorop) to take Aurora from their own monastery and smuggle her into the Empire. Why all the secrecy, when the Noelites are the only ones who know she's carrying virginally conceived babies? I don't know. Where did the Noelites get access to an intercontinental nuclear ballistic missile capable of reaching and destroying Gorksy's fortified bunker, and why, having access to such a weapon, would they use it to take out a single Russian mobster? I don't know.

But you don't care about any of this. What you want to know is: How much ass does Michelle Yeoh kick in this movie? Hardly any. Her "fight" scenes are nothing more than a glimpse of a kick here, a single punch there, and then cutting away to something, anything else. It's like the director was ashamed to have a woman kicking ass in his movie, so that he can't bear to look upon it. And if you think you're going to see a romance between Diesel and Yeoh, clearly you've never seen a movie before. Yes, both actors are charismatic and likeable, and there's even some chemistry there, but a romance between a brown man and an Asian woman is not in the cards for a big-budget French-American co-production. Never mind that Yeoh is an order of magnitude hotter than Thierry; the only hint of romance is the scene with naked Diesel injecting himself with a dose of passport and Aurora coming up to him and almost kissing him before Sister Becky shows up to cockblock Diesel and retain Aurora's purity from the horrors of normal human interaction. Every time Aurora appeared on screen, I wanted to buy her a sandwich and give her an icepack to reduce the swelling of her enormous lips. I don't understand why wispy, spindly white women with engorged lips are apparently the world's standard of feminine beauty, but that shit's got to go. For God's sake, give me a woman who can kick my ass, not a girl I have to donate blood to every other week.

So it's a double-cross, of course, only this time it's Toorop who double-crosses the Noelites (and Gorsky's people, who are also there somehow) because he Cares and all. Of course, we already knew that because Aurora told us in the previous scene that all three of them would die in New York, so of course, that happens. Sister Reba dies of a gunshot, Toorop and Aurora die being blown up by a missile, and the movie ends.

But no, that would mean the filmmakers possessed an ounce of mercy in their shriveled hearts! No, Toorop doesn't die after all! Actually, he does die, but his body is stolen and he's brought back to life by the Merovingian, who enters the movie in the last 15 minutes to let us know that he is Aurora's father and that he's also not dead. When the Noelites hear that Toorop's body has been stolen, they immediately figure out that he's being brought back to life(!) and set off to find the Merovingian even though they think he's dead and therefore have no idea he's involved with Toorop's disappearance or where he might be. That leaves the Merovingian time to kill Toorop again and use his cybertech to figure out Aurora's moments-before-death message to Toorop. It's a message that only means anything to Toorop, so Mero zaps him back to life again and he's off to meet up with Aurora, who is also alive because her powers now include protecting both herself and Toorop from missile strikes to the face.

The Noelites immediately find them again in the secret meeting place and they have themselves a little car chase since the movie hasn't had one yet, despite the fact that only Toorop knew where Aurora was and he was gone before they showed up to kill the Merovingian. (Why didn't Mero leave, too? And if he stayed behind, why not lie about where Aurora was to buy time?) Toorop and Aurora escape, and Aurora dies in childbirth because she was "programmed to breed, not to live". Flashforward a few years, and we see Toorop raising the two kids (one black, one white!) on his own in the middle of nowhere. I guess the Noelites just gave up finding him--even though it was pretty damn easy to do it before. End movie.

Reportedly, the director was livid that the studio dared to hack some 40 minutes of footage of his movie. And I can tell you, unless it was 40 minutes of Michelle Yeoh kicking ass, we're all the better for having 40 minutes less of Babylon AD. The plot is nonsensical, the futurisitic world is blurry and indistinct, the two leads' charisma and chemistry are buried under a ham-handed religious allegory,** and the movie just fizzles out with an ending that explains nothing.

Thank God I didn't care.


* Just for the record, the Immaculate Conception is Mary's birth free from original sin (so that that sin could not be passed on to Jesus Christ), not to the virgin birth of Jesus. The latter is called (wait for it) the Virgin Birth. Sorry, that just always annoys me.
** Not that religious movies have to be bad. One of my favorite movies is The Prophecy, people!


  1. Despite my liking for Vin Diesel, I'd have to say this review is fair. Poor Vin has had bugger all good movies, and at one stage he was looking like the next big action hero. Though I guess if Bruce Willis is still in the game, there's still time.

    1. I focused on Michelle Yeoh's acting talents being wasted, but I could just as easily have focused on how Vin Diesel's are wasted. I can see what drew him to this material, since there's an interesting story to be told in here somewhere. It's too bad the filmmakers didn't find it.

      I think the problem is that studio executives treat guys like Diesel and The Rock the same as they (rightly) treated Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Action heroes these days tend to be actual, like, actors, but when the execs see something like XXX on his resume, they assume Diesel is just some lunkhead who can't hold his own in a serious drama, so he's reduced to taking parts in movies like this because of the (unfulfilled) potential to do something other than fire off blanks and crack one-liners.