As longtime readers know, I've got a thing for Vin Diesel.
All it took to seduce me was Pitch Black, a genre movie soperfect it practically showed up at my front door in a lady-elfcostume with a quiver full of Charleston Chew and the eldritch kitchenknowledge of the Curry So Hot It Makes You Cry From Every Hole In YourHead. (Apparently that's my idea of a perfect date. I wish I hadn'tknown that.)
Diesel has since done...well...since then, he's done other movies thataren't so perfect. Like an abusive relationship, I just keep goingback -- he only makes Fast & Furious because he loves me -- and,like with his latest, Babylon A.D., I just keep gettingbruised.
As an exiled ex-mercenary in the dog-eating slums of future Russia,Vin Diesel has learned not to want much. But others still want him,among them his warlord former employer, who hauls Diesel in and offershim half a million dollars to smuggle Melanie Thierry through theultra-strict borders of America.
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Diesel takes the job, finding Thierry's accompanied by Michelle Yeoh,a tough nun who wants her ward no contact with the outside world. Asthey negotiate their way through the underworld of a crumbling Earth,Diesel begins to suspect Thierry is carrying something that, forbetter or worse, could change the fates of millions.
Not that, even after watching it, I'm at all sure what that her secretis. Oh, I heard the explanation, though it didn't arrive until longafter I'd stopped caring. Thierry's kooky significance was laid out inwords that, individually, I understood. Combined into sentences,however, they made so little sense the resulting crease in my brain iscurrently being explored by a crack team of the world's topcanyonologists. (Don't expect to hear from them again. Dropping intomy head, the only reports they're likely to send back are EventHorizon-style clips of eye-plucking and intestines-eating.)
Bad news: in the making-sense department, the rest of Babylon A.D. isn't much better than its gobbledegook finale.
Among the limitless ways you can start a movie, Vin Diesel eating dogsand slaughtering mercenaries is a fantastic kickoff. If you were to beejected from the theater right then, the mystery of what comes nextwould likely drive you so crazy you too would soon be feeding on petsand blasting bad men into crimson ribbons. Got to love stories thatplunge into the plot and trust you'll catch up later.
The key to leaping right into the action, though, is the idea that,sooner or later, you give us some goddamn idea why it's happening inthe first place. Babylon A.D. builds a compelling enough worldaround its not-so-compelling characters. It's filled with slums andfights and rogue submarines and sneaky plans for Diesel to get throughplaces he's not supposed to be. As for what's at stake, the reasonwe're watching this odyssey, screenwriter Eric Besnard (adapting froma French novel) doesn't give us our first clue for over an hour. Inmovie-time, that's like eight years.
Eight years of mounting confusion and frustration may work when itcomes to marriage and career, but not in entertainment. It's almostlike they're deliberately hiding the secret because it's so silly andinsane that exposing us to it for any longer than necessary would bean act of medieval cruelty. It's either that or they simply have noclue about the story they're trying to tell.
Mustered against this awful, awful storytelling: two original actionsequences and Diesel's animal magnetism, a force so potent theatershave to install lead-lined walls to prevent every pet in a three-mileradius from being sucked into a Death Star-sized furball.
Cursedly, us hairless apes need something more -- like a reason to careabout the characters' struggles, or a backstory written by someoneaware of the concepts of logic or plausibility, or an ending that (andthere's really no better way to put this) doesn't suck. While you'rewatching it, Babylon A.D. isn't so bad. It's afterward, whenyou have to try to put the mess together for yourself, that it startsto feel like a 90-minute waste.