Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Babylon A.D. - DVD Review

Babylon A.D., based on the novel Babylon Babies by Maurice Georges Dantec, is a futuristic tale of politics, religion and cybernetic enhancement. Let me rephrase that; Babylon A.D. gave me the impression that it was supposed to be a futuristic tale of politics, religion and cybernetic enhancement. Really, it’s just a derivative wanna-be Blade Runner with some pretty sweet special effects. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story tells the tale of Toorop, an American mercenary living in Russia a few years in the future. He accepts a contract from a mobster to transport a teenage girl named Aurora to New York. It’s a dangerous mission, as Russia has basically become a gigantic war-torn slum. The two are accompanied by a nun who has basically raised Aurora since birth.

This is the first time Aurora has been among the human element, and the stress wears on her. She seems to personally experience the anger, frustration and pain of each individual she encounters along the way. She exhibits precognitive abilities and knows how to operate a Soviet-era submarine. It is eventually revealed that she could speak 19 languages at the age of two and has always possessed an uncanny knowledge of things she had never been exposed to. Toorop realizes there’s more to this girl than meets the eye and remains wary of her, but eventually they save each others lives and earn each others trust.

And of course, there’s more, but I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to see the movie. Here’s the deal with this film: it’s not bad, but I get the distinct impression that there’s supposed to be a bit more to it than what I saw. I know the director, Mathieu Kassovitz, expressed a great deal of displeasure with 20th Century Fox and the producers of this film, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. I got the idea that had the movie been about a half an hour longer and had certain elements of the plot been a bit more fleshed out, it could’ve been a really good movie. It’s got a lot really intriguing ideas, and it seems like there’s a lot bubbling under the surface that isn’t really allowed to get free. It’s almost as though Babylon A.D. wants to be a more meaningful movie, but it was unfortunately kept on a short leash and ended up being just another action flick.
But as far as action flicks go, it’s pretty cool. Visually, it’s a great movie: there’s a sense of realness to the cities and the costumes. Everything looks very gritty, dirty and used. The special effects are impressive and the action sequences are quite exciting as well. And I’m shocked to admit that I didn’t even dislike Vin Diesel in this movie! It’s really a shame that the movie seems to have a split-personality. If it had simply been a mindless action movie, it might’ve been a lot of fun. If it had been a more highbrow sci-fi adventure, it might’ve broken some interesting new ground. As it is, it’s somewhere in the middle and it doesn’t end up being very effective at all. I don’t know if the director or the studio is to blame, but something got lost along the way, and it’s really too bad.

The DVD features the usual assortment of behind-the-scenes extras as well as a really interesting animated prequel that lays a bit of groundwork for the movie. It’s worth watching.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia - DVD Review

Okay, I’ll be perfectly honest with you. The only reason I even watched this movie was because it starred Ken Anderson, better known as Mr. Kennedy of World Wrestling Entertainment fame. I hadn’t seen the first two films in the Behind Enemy Lines series and really had no desire to. I didn’t have any desire to watch this movie either, but I’m a big fan of professional wrestling and I figured “Why not?” How bad could it be? I assumed that a worst-case scenario would be me having a good laugh over a bad movie, and the joy of watching stuff blow up. It’s always fun to watch stuff blow up.

I had no idea what I was in for. Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia is really bad. I mean, really bad. I guess I should’ve known: it’s a direct-to-DVD film co-produced by WWE Studios. I’d seen the previous two films produced by WWE Studios (See No Evil and The Condemned), and while they certainly weren’t going to take home any awards, they were entertaining, if mindless, movies. Heck, I actually liked The Condemned! But the third installment in the Behind Enemy Lines franchise is no Condemned. It’s actually somewhere between Iron Eagle IV and Delta Force 3.

The plot concerns a bunch of Navy SEALS on a top-secret mission in Colombia to observe a meeting between government officials and insurgent guerillas. But when the meeting is attacked and a teammate is taken hostage, the SEALS are framed for the crime and left behind by their own government. It was one of those “the government will disavow any knowledge of your existence” kind of missions. So the intrepid team of military specialists have to save their friend, clear their name and fight their way out of hostile territory, and they have to do it quickly, before the war spills onto U.S. soil. Sounds like kind of an interesting plot on paper, but clearly something was lost in the translation.

The first 30 to 40 minutes of this movie basically consists of a bunch of guys in camouflage loading and unloading gear, checking to make sure their rifles work and sending hand signals back and forth. The hand signals and equipment were all authentic. I know this because I watched the plethora of extras on the DVD, the majority of which were vastly more entertaining than the movie itself. It’s the standard extras package: interviews with cast members about the training they went through, a little vignette featuring the demolitions expert and the stunt coordinator, a gag reel and commentary. Definitely worth watching if you buy this movie, are given this movie, or find this movie in the trash.

The second half of the movie is a series of action sequences, corny jokes and laughable dialogue that you’ve seen a million times before in a million other movies, only they were done in a far more interesting fashion in those movies. Even the explosions in this movie look cliché and are even somewhat boring. I found myself falling asleep a lot, or trying to fall asleep. That hasn’t happened since I saw Silent Hill at the dollar theater. I wanted my money back then, and I want my 2 hours back that I spent watching this movie. Or maybe it was only an hour and a half, I can’t remember. It felt like the better part of an afternoon. I actually began to wonder if I was trapped behind enemy lines and this was part of some sort of insidious torture that I was being put through. Thankfully, I made it out alive, thought I’ll probably never be the same again.

In my mind, there’s nothing to really save this flick, but I’m sure it will appeal to some folks. It’s a very bland and generic by-the-numbers military action flick and some people like that. More power to them: I hope they have a good time with this one. God knows I didn’t. For the rest of you, I would only recommend Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia if you are laid up in bed with some sort of illness and there’s absolutely nothing else to watch.