Wednesday, October 25, 2006

District B13

2004, France, directed by Pierre Morel (Original title: Banlieue 13)

Rating: ***

Yet another French action film bearing Luc Besson's fingerprints, this is a showcase for the physical skills of athlete David Belle and stunt performer Cyril Raffaelli; the storyline, such as it is, is absolutely subordinate to the extended action sequences. Belle is the inventor of a kind of urban sport called parkour, which basically involves climbing up and jumping off large buildings, and the opening sequence is an excuse to watch him throw himself around with abandon. He plays Leïto, a good-hearted resident of a benighted neighborhood in the Paris suburbs circa 2010, enclosed behind concrete walls in the hopes that the lawlessness can be confined and that the criminals will take each other out. Events throw Leïto together with Cyril Raffaelli's supercop, who is introduced in equally spectacular fashion, for a showdown with the baddest badass in District B13 (for our viewing pleasure). Although events in the French suburbs make this seem vaguely topical, there's really no credible political commentary (the resolution is insultingly pat), just vast amounts of gunplay and stunt action. The action sequences are shot with minimal special effects work, but the editing is so frenetic that it's often hard to appreciate the physical skills on display, which short-changes Belle in particular; the sequence which introduces Raffaelli, though, is brilliantly choreographed. Still, for completely mindless action entertainment, this is about as good as it gets this side of an old-school Hong Kong action movie; the bodycount is similar, too.

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