Babylon A.D.

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Opens: Friday, Aug. 29 (Fox)

After switching things up with "The Pacifier" and "Find Me Guilty," Vin Diesel returns to the action arena with "Babylon A.D.," a towering heap of nihilistic nonsense that plays like a cornball "Children of Men."

A pet project of French filmmaker and sometime actor Mathieu Kassovitz, who along with Eric Besnard adapted the original novel "Babylon Babies" by Maurice G. Dantec, the faux-Orwellian sci-fi thriller grows sillier as it goes along.

Kassovitz has publicly dissed 20th Century Fox, claiming that it interfered with his vision, including lopping a good 20 minutes off of the final running time.

Truth be told, it's hard to regard the studio's snipping as anything but an act of mercy given all the clunky dialogue and some truly unfortunate performances.

Although the European production opened in France a week ago, here the picture has been fittingly saved for the traditional Labor Day weekend dump.

Vin does his Diesel thing as Toorop, a world-weary mercenary just trying to make an honest living in a postnuclear wasteland.

His latest assignment is to transport a gifted but troubled young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) from a convent in Kazakhstan to New York by way of Alaska and Canada.

Accompanying them is Aurora's feisty guardian, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), a Noelite nun with a murky past, which could account for her butt-kicking way of dealing with anything that crosses her path.

They make for an admittedly oddball triumvirate, and the film starts off involvingly enough before everything starts to get bogged down in the encroaching outlandishness, ending in a dopey coda that effectively lands Diesel back in "Pacifier" territory.

Although Yeoh lends the film a greater emotional heft than it deserves, the same cannot be said for the usually faultless Charlotte Rampling and Gerard Depardieu, who veer garishly over the top as a self-serving Noelite high priestess and Toorop's oily Kazakh engager, respectively.

Shooting extensively in Prague, cinematographer Thierry Arbogast casts everyone in an unflattering gray pallor (blame it on that postnuclear haze), while Kassovitz's disjointed action sequences feel like they were airlifted in from some other movie.

Production: Babylon A.D. SAS and Studiocanal. Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Gerard Depardieu. Director: Mathieu Kassovitz. Screenwriters: Mathieu Kassovitz and Eric Besnard. Producer: Ilan Goldman. Executive producers: Avram Butch Kaplan, David Valdes. Rated PG-13, 90 minutes. Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast. Production designers: Sonja Klaus, Paul Cross. Music: Atli Orvarsson. Costume designers: Chattoune & Fab. Editor: Benjamin Weill.

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