If you’d have suggested I add a French action movie to the rental queue, I’d have been doubtful. But then I would have remembered fine fare like Leon/The Professional and two-thirds of The Fifth Element (the portion without Chris Tucker), and seen Luc Besson’s name as District B13’s co-writer and producer. And I would have said, “Oh, mais oui!”
District B13 isn’t in the league of Leon/The Professional, and it hasn’t The Fifth Element’s straight-faced silliness, but it’s an entertaining romp that falls just a bit short of being the perfect popcorn movie.
In the not-too-distant future, crappy neighborhoods are walled off into districts and given only token police and social services. The worst of these is District B13, home to all sorts of criminal elements, including drug and crime lord Taha (co-writer Bibi Naceri). It’s also home to possibly the only honest man in the district, Leito (David Belle). In addition to being an upright citizen, Leito is also quite handsome, has lovely abs, and does that “free running” stuff that was recently seen in Casino Royale. Unfortunately Leito gets shafted by the cops and tossed in jail, while his extremely feisty sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) is captured by Taha and turned into his junkie slave.
Then there’s honest, upright policeman Damien (Cyril Raffaelli). Despite sharing a name with the Antichrist, Damien is dedicated to law and order, and also happens to be a martial arts expert, as he helpfully demonstrates in a big fight scene set in a casino.
It’s at this point – roughly halfway through the film – that the actual plot kicks in. A nuclear missile has been stolen and accidentally activated. (Oops! Clumsy!) It’s located somewhere in District B13, so Damien has to go looking for it to defuse it, with Leito as his somewhat reluctant accomplice. Oh, and Leito also plans to rescue his sister and get some revenge on Taha. Hijinks ensue.
For its first two thirds, District B13 is a fun, delightfully brainless actioner. The free running and the martial arts are well-choreographed and exciting to watch, and the actors look great the whole time. Taha is a suitably slimy villain, and a scary guy named “Yeti” shows up to add some fun.
Sadly, the last third fizzles out as the film seems to build toward a final big battle that never arrives, and as Damien takes a moment (well, several moments) to get across the point of the story. I like a little political subtext as much as the next gal, but not when it brings the movie to a halt.
Still, the movie is a good deal of fun, and well worth renting just for the free running scenes, which wonderfully blend action with physical grace.
The movie is available in an English dub, or in French with subtitles. I’ve heard nothing good about the English dub and didn’t give it a listen. Other extras include trailers, a fairly lengthy documentary, and an extended version of the casino fight scene. Uncork some wine, lay out some brie and crackers, and watch the show.