Tales of Babylon takes no time to tackle its obvious point of comparison for a witty crime saga with multiple colorful main characters: Yeah, it’s like Pulp Fiction. X (Ray Calleja) and Y (Aaron Cobham) are two hitmen sent on a job that embroils them in a larger underworld scheme. In the classic preparation of walking up to the job, X racks his brain to recall the film of which his life is reminiscent. At just the right moment, he remembers Quentin Tarantino’s epoch-defining masterpiece … before the story twists in a different direction, allowing writer-director Pelayo De Lario to set aside the inspirations and try it his own way. The result is a stronger, more confident outing than his debut film, Jack.
In classic pulp fashion, Babylon introduces a handful of characters, each representing elements of the traditional crime story. Its mysterious characters are defined by their roles rather than normal names: X & Y are hitmen; there’s a man called the Professional (Albert Tallski); a woman named Mother Nature (Maria Crittell, great in an eyepatch); and a crime lord named Silver Dragon (Clive Russell). At the center is a young girl wanted by all parties but protected by X & Y. Her name? The Kid (Billie Gadsdon). De Lario strips his characters down to their genre essence and, in doing so, allows himself the flexibility to be unsparing in their fates.
As a contemporary crime film, it’s natural to assume a certain level of jovial banter between bursts of violence. Naturalistic goofing is a hard sell; many films try and few succeed. Certainly, a few lines don’t land, but by and large, these characters’ penchants for pop-culture references and whimsical monologues about mundane aspects of life are sharply written and well-delivered. The cast is great, but Calleja as X sells his role the best. There’s also a greatly appreciated amount of sexual chemistry between X and Y right up to their last moment together, which features an almost-kiss that could’ve been consummated for greater emotional satisfaction.
The actual plot is a little difficult to follow at times, but that’s by design, and all of the disparate characters come together by the end and make their machinations clear.
When it comes to American crime films, it’s hard to escape the shadow of Tarantino’s 1990s work; there’s basically an entire sub-genre of riffs on what he accomplished in that period of his career. Babylon happens to be a pretty good one. Like I said, it admits the influence up front and then tries to do its own thing with it. There’s little bad to say about Tales of Babylon: It’s a cohesive, well-made, good-time crime movie with characters who never grow frustrating and enough twists and turns to keep its plot engaging. Good work by all involved.