Movie Review

French, fast, furious, flat

Los Angeles Daily NewsJuly 28, 2006 

  • 2 1/2 stars

    Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle.

    Director: Pierre Morel.

    Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

    Web site: www.districtb13.com.

    Theaters: Cary: Galaxy. Durham: Carolina. Raleigh: Colony.

    Rating: R (violence, drug use, language).

'district B13" has timing on its side. Not the greatest recommendation, but it needs most of the help it can get.

A typically posturing French action movie from Luc Besson's imagination-crushing factory, this futuristic urban knockabout gains from two very different time factors.

One is the 2004 production's delayed U.S. release, after last year's ethnic riots in France's ghettoized suburbs. They give the movie's title setting -- a crime-ridden slum precinct that has been walled off from more civilized parts of Paris, circa 2013 -- at least the cachet of a decent enough speculative conceit.

The other time thing is purely kinetic, and its name is Parkour. A kind of fighting-technique-cum-site-specific-performance-art, it's all about fluid motion through a given environment during chases and martial combat.

The other thing about Parkour is that it moves mighty fast. And "B13's" Parkour expert, David Belle, is quite an athlete. Neither gravity nor hordes of big, ugly hoods seem capable of slowing down the incredibly agile actor. The only thing that can cramp his style is pedestrian screenwriting.

In this thing, that's a lot of cramping. Belle's Leito, the last decent guy in the lawless enclave, is sold out by local crime lord Taha (Bibi Naceri, who also wrote the script with Besson) and winds up in prison -- while the bad guy keeps Leito's feisty sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) drugged and on a leash.

Some time later, Taha accidentally gets hold of a nuclear-tipped missile. Finally concerned about what's happening in B13, the authorities send in supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli, a pretty accomplished stuntman in his own right). He needs a local guide, though, so Leito is busted out of prison to help him. Their collaboration is, naturally, fraught, since Leito has obvious agendas of his own.

Mayhem and a lot of bad driving ensues. Somehow, though, it all plays out like a Jackie Chan cop comedy, crossed with 1,000 French comic books minus the humor. Parkour may be new and cool, but stitched to a worn-out storyline here, it probably doesn't look its best.

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