Tuesday, July 04, 2006
'District B13' - More Butt Kicking, S’il Vous Plaît
One way to avoid an oncoming speeding car is to leap over its trunk and sprint over its roof. It’s an acrobatic feat reserved to select street heroes like Leïto (David Belle), a young man trying to rise out of his Parisian ghetto, and his unlikely partner, Detective Damien (Cyril Raffaelli).
Leïto and Damien are gritty, roughhewn versions of Asian superstar Jackie Chan, capable of Spider-Man-like leaps and scaling the walls of buildings whenever the need arises. They’re also unlikely partners, incapable of trusting one another, which is part of the pulpy fun of the rollicking French action movie “DistrictB13 (Banlieue 13)”
A vicious drug lord named Taha (played by the film’s co-writer Bibi Naceri) has a deadly bomb directed towards central Paris. He also has Leïto’s young sister held captive. It’s up to the mismatched duo to infiltrate B13, a walled slum on the outskirts of Paris with no schools, no police and no post offices, find the bomb, free the girl and save the day.
Grim, violent, but infused with the playful spirit of a comic book, “District B13” offers straight arrow stunts and no-nonsense fighting that explodes in a worthy rooftop finale. Director Pierre Morel, a veteran cameraman making his directing debut, may lack the special effects budget of his American counterparts but he beats them at wowing audiences.
French filmmaker Luc Besson produces in addition to his co-writing duties with Bibi Naceri.
David Belle, the champion of parkour, a sport based on surmounting all obstacles at top speed, makes for a glum hero whenever he’s standing still but luckily he never stops moving. Cyril Raffaelli, a veteran stuntman, complements the dour Belle with equal agility and extra sass and charisma.
Their oil-and-water partnership borrows heavily from the “Lethal Weapon” films but the film’s grit and pulpy fun pays homage to beloved B action movies like “Escape from New York” and “Shakedown.”
The spirit of John Carpenter, the creator of “Escape from New York” and countless other B movies, is alive and well in “District 13” and that spirit beats Hollywood pizzazz every time.
“District B13” made its North American premiere at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival after playing theaters throughout Europe. Magnolia Pictures will release it in theaters across America this summer.