Tired of hearing the words “France” and “cinema” in the same sentence, after two weeks of Cannes? Hold out just a little longer: This weekend, Magnolia Pictures readies the American release of Pierre Morel’s District B13 (a SXSW 2006 selection). This will arguably be one of the best action films you see all summer, a French cop/kung-fu epic that features some of the craziest stunts this side of Ong Bak. Here is Marge Baumgarten’s 3.5-star review from this week’s Austin Chronicle:
Morel is the latest Luc Besson protégé to make the leap to director of this breakneck-paced action movie, which was conceived and co-scripted by Besson (La Femme Nikita). Set in the near-future of 2010, the film is not big on plot exposition, instead focusing on its finely wrought action momentum, which moves ever forward with rushing exhilaration. The city of Paris has erected isolation walls around the core city to protect its citizens from the chaos of the suburban ghettos, which in turn are controlled by warring gangs. The biggest and the baddest of the gangs is headed by Taha (Naceri, who also co-scripted under the name Bibi Naceri), a reprehensible figure who’d just as soon shoot his own soldiers as listen to their excuses. Leito (Belle), who appears to be the last righteous man in his suburban ghetto District B13, is a constant thorn in the side of Taha, outrunning his henchmen and destroying his drug stockpiles. The film’s lengthy opening chase sequence is devoted to Leito’s latest escapade, and dazzles due to the actor’s virtuosic ability to leap across buildings and rooftops, through transoms, and over the various concrete impediments of the urban jungle. (Belle’s athletic talent stems from his background as one of the founders of the sport of Parkour, which combines running and martial-arts moves for total mobility in an urban environment.) Leito’s attempt at cleaning up the neighborhood is cruelly rewarded with a prison sentence and the capture of his sister (Chattot), who is drugged by Taha and kept on a dog leash at his feet. He’s sprung from prison when he’s paired up with the veteran elite-forces cop Damien (Raffaelli, a professional stuntman-turned-actor), who is assigned to deactivate a wayward nuclear bomb that has fallen into Taha’s hands. Leito joins on to rescue his sister. There’s a minimal amount of dialogue and a constant propulsive techno score (produced by Da Octopuss) as District B13 moves along its action-centered trajectory. Implications regarding the recent riots among French immigrant youth and a cautionary vibe about the trustworthiness of the nation’s leaders and law enforcers can be drawn – although they’re mild enough to also be wholly ignored. This French import is a worthy entrant into the adrenalized cadre of action films like Run Lola Run and Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (which Besson produced). What District B13 lacks in story development it compensates for with stunningly realistic action.