District B13
aka Banlieue 13
District B13

French language. France, 2005. Rated R. 85  minutes.

Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Tony D'Amario, Bib Naceri (as Larbi Naceri), Dany Verissimo, François Chattot, Nicolas Woirion, Patrick Olivier, Samir Guesmi
Writers: Luc Besson (screenplay & story) and Bibi Naceri (screenplay)
Original Music: Bastinde Donny, Da Octopuss, Damien Rogues
Cinematography: Manuel Teran
Producer: Luc Besson
Director: Pierre Morel


Grade: B Review by Carlo Cavagna

Once a real auteur, or almost, Luc Besson has settled for becoming a second-rate action movie factory who can't be bothered to actually direct any of the formulaic scripts he spews from his printer. The erstwhile director of La Femme Nikita and Leon (aka The Professional) has become the writer/producer of The Transporter and The Transporter 2.

That's not to say Besson isn't sometimes effective. In fact, the more ambitious his films are, the worse they tend to be. The Big Blue—pretty turgid and pretentious. The Fifth Element—even more turgid and not nearly as fun as La Femme Nikita. The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc—the Hindenburg was less turgid than this movie. And less miscast as a flying object than Milla Jovovich was as a crusading warrior/saint.

David Belle
David Belle shows off his moves in District B13.

When Besson keeps it simple, he can still deliver the goods. Last year, Unleashed was no less ridiculous than The Fifth Element, but thanks to its gritty tone, back-to-basics story elements, and a kick-ass Jet Li, it was a hell of a lot more fun. The same is true of District B13.

It's no mystery what's on offer here. With Transporter and Unleashed cinematographer Pierre Morel directing, District B13 is just a good martial arts action movie propelled by an electronic/hip-hop soundtrack. The story is set in the near future, in which all society's undesirables are quarantined in a walled-off portion of the city, and it involves a girl, a bomb, and an unlikely partnership between a cop and a criminal.

More than that is unnecessary, because what District B13 is really about is jaw-dropping stunts. Taking a page from Ong-Bak (for which Besson was an uncredited executive producer), District B13 avoids harnesses and special effects, and the two stars are as much acrobats as they are martial artists.

Cyril Raffaelli, who plays the cop (Damien), is a circus-trained boxing champion and veteran stuntman. David Belle, who plays the criminal (Leïto), is also a veteran stuntman, and specializes in jumping and climbing. Belle has developed his own martial arts discipline he calls “Parkour,” which focuses on movement. Combining agility with quick reactions, participants aim to move over, under, and around obstacles without altering or interrupting their forward motion. In District B13, he shows it off. You can't believe he's pulling the moves he's pulling, except he is.

Thanks to the two stars and their innovative choreography, District B13 works. Besson's script may be formulaic crap, but he obviously still has an eye for fresh action talent, and an instinct for how to show it off.

Review © May 2006 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2006 Magnolia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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