“District B13″ – A.J. Hakari

Move over, Stallone and Schwarzenegger! The musclebound action stars of yesteryear have had their time on the silver screen. Today’s action heroes are a lithe bunch, bouncing all over the screen like that squirrel from Hoodwinked. And for fans of recent genre hits like Ong-Bak and Hero, along comes District B13, a lightning-quick and delightfully maniacal French import, to serve up all the eye-popping stuntwork and fast-paced martial arts battles you could ever want out of a flick.

District B13, co-written by filmmaker Luc Besson, takes place in Paris, circa 2010. Crime has gotten so out of control in the city’s more dangerous areas that the government has responded by simply building up walls around the particularly nasty neighborhoods, cutting them off from the “normal” world. It’s in the titular barrio that Leito (David Belle) tries living a decent life with his sister Lola (Dany Verissimo). But after Lola is kidnapped by local crime lord Taha (Larbi Naceri) and the fleeing police force refuses to do anything about it, Leito ends up stuck in jail with no way of rescuing her. That is, until Taha gets his hands on a nuclear bomb, after which decorated supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) is called in to retrieve it from B13. Of course, he needs someone who knows the neighborhood well, and who else ends up as his partner but Leito, whom Damien must break out of jail and find the time to get along with in order to save Paris from certain destruction.

While Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme keep churning out straight-to-DVD vehicles no different than anything else on their resumes, flicks like District B13 are busy keeping the spirit of the action genre alive and exciting. The trick with this movie is that instead of putting the focus on a familiar face or a recognizable name to put on the marquee, District B13 is all about the action. The genre is certainly within the blood of the cast and crew; first-time director Pierre Morel served as the cinematographer for Unleashed and The Transporter (both of which also had the involvement of Luc Besson), and stars Belle and Raffaelli are veteran stuntmen getting their first leading roles (and doing a pretty good job, too).

With this in mind, District B13 comes across with a kind of purity, a sense of not dawdling around with any pretentious themes or making the stars look good. This is a movie that cuts the ham out of the club sandwich when it comes to action, recognizing what the fans want right from the start and delivering a much more exciting package of thrills and high-energy set pieces than Hollywood tends to churn out. The action sequences look great and arrive at a furious pace, kicking off with an amazing chase atop, in, and around the buildings of B13 and ending with one more fight as the bomb’s obligatory red digital clock keeps counting down.

This is pretty much all that matters in a film like this, and although I did encounter a few deterrences (particularly a small sense of repetitiveness and not giving the gorgeous Verissimo much to do aside from be a damsel in distress), I have to say that District B13 kept me plenty entertained on the whole. It’s not as much of an adrenaline rush as something like Crank, but hey, it’s a better alternative to seeing Steven Seagal shoot a guy for the umpteenth time.

 

Rating: ★★★☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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