Tales of Babylon
Despite its low budget and, *ahem*, obvious inspiration from Quentin Tarantino's early films, this slick Brit crime production pilfers plenty of laughs and tense moments.
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There’s a prevailing opinion among many creative types that there are truly no more original stories, and everything new we see is just stealing, or to use the polite term inspired by, existing works.
I don’t really subscribe to this theory — how many other films used a popular toy as inspiration for a hilarious and oddly poignant exploration of gender roles? — but I take their point. Certainly themes, story construction and character types are often liberally borrowed from work to work, movies being no exception.
I think writer/director Pelayo De Lario is pretty upfront about the copius lifting of early Quentin Tarantino films in his crime caper, “Tales of Babylon.” You can see the DNA of “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” written all over the story, and several characters even reference them explicitly.
There’s a bit of coyness, though, having one guy momentarily forget John Travolta’s name — like that could ever happen.
If “Babylon” is thievery, then it’s darn good pilfering. Its interlocking sets of characters and storylines are reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction,” coming together into a finale that is basically a replay of that of “Reservoir Dogs.” There’s even an eye-patch-wearing female assassin who would slip nicely right into the mayhem of the “Kill Bill” duology.
De Lario has a strong visual style and knows how to spotlight his characters so they each have at least one or two memorable moments that embed themselves into our attention.
There’s X and Y, the bromancing pair of hitmen played by Ray Calleja and Aaron Cobham, respectively. X is goofy and extroverted, wearing gaudy yellow clothes and a dyed white streak in his hair because he liked Richard Madden’s. Y, the calm and analytical one, points out that this standout characteristic isn’t very smart for gunmen since it makes it easier for witnesses to ID him.
As the story opens, X and Y have been assigned to find and secure Alex (Dylan Gadsdon), the troublesome grandson of the local crime boss, the Silver Dragon (more on him in a minute). After some speechifyin’ and shootin’, they instead come to be in possession of his sister, known simply as The Kid, and played by Billie Gadsdon, who’s maybe about 9 years old.
They feel compelled to look after her, and while X gruffs at babysitting her he soon takes a shine to the girl, taking her out for chicken dinners and park excursions. He’s not very good with children, dropping the f-word constantly and being rather lackadaisical with his big bag of guns. But they make it work.
Mother Nature (Maria Crittell) is the aforementioned one-eyed killer, who works for the Silver Dragon now. A few years ago the lines of loyalty were a little different, as we see in a lengthy flashback, but she’s found her spot and is sticking to it. Crittell is smooth and charismatic, a woman who knows she’s the best at what she does but doesn’t feel compelled to show off about it.
Contrastingly, the Professional (Albert Tallski), is yet another assassin who feels compelled to constantly tell everyone how good he is at his job, though things don’t turn out so well for someone supposedly at the top of his game. He reminded me of Tom Cruise’s character in “Collateral,” and perhaps this is another nod/homage/spoof.
Clive Russell is the Silver Dragon, a tall vulture of a man who’s spread his wings over his domain so long he can’t conceive of anyone betraying him or getting a leg up on him. He has a poor history with his daughter, so now he wants to do right by his granddaughter. As for Alex, they have an ongoing beef that provides the impetus for all the different hit-people plying their trade.
Rounding things out is Martin, a loser bartender played by Philip Tomlin. He’s constantly bullied by a trio of thugs in his neighborhood, and to make things worse everyone calls him Mort, which he doesn’t care for. Early on Martin finally decides to take matters into his own hands, and despite the gruesomeness of it we find ourselves rooting for the poor schlub. He’ll disappear for a long while but reappear in a critical later stretch.
“Tales of Babylon” is fast-paced, entertaining and bracingly mixes moments of high humor with truly revolting acts of violence and depravity. It’s the sort of movie that gets you chuckling and then grimacing, sometimes jumping back and forth. That’s a hard tone to manage, but the filmmakers and crew keep things loose and jazzy.
It’s a good-looking picture despite obviously not having a lot of money to play with. The fight scenes are a little staged-looking, and the sound production doesn’t quite get a handle on what gunshots should sound like.
These quibbles aside, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit as it reminded me of some other flicks I liked but employed enough original characters and moments to seem like more than a rehash. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.