Action Heroes: A New Breed
District B13, a lightning-quick French import, serves up all the eye-popping stunts and fast-paced martial arts battles that fans of recent genre offerings like Ong-Bak and Hero would ever want. After watching these movies, I’m tempted to say, “Move over, Stallone and Schwarzenegger!” Why? Because it appears that the muscle-bound 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.
Co-written by filmmaker Luc Besson, District B13 takes place in Paris in the year 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). 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. Naturally he needs someone who knows the neighborhood well, so it’s Leito who ends up as his partner. But first Damien must break Leito out of jail and find the time to get along with him 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, movies like District B13 are busy keeping the spirit of the action genre alive and exciting. The trick with this movie is that instead of focusing on a familiar face or a recognizable name to put on the marquee, District B13 is all about the action -- and key people involved in this film certainly have the blood of this genre flowing through their veins. First-time director Pierre Morel served as the cinematographer for Unleashed and The Transporter (both also had the involvement of Luc Besson), and stars Belle and Raffaelli are veteran stuntmen getting their first leading roles (and doing a good job, too). District B13 comes across with a kind of purity, a sense of not dawdling around with pretentious themes or trying to make the stars look good. The action sequences 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.
Although District B13 seems a bit repetitive at times and fails to give the gorgeous Verissimo much to do except be a damsel in distress, it’s a generally entertaining movie. And it’s definitely a better alternative to seeing Steven Seagal shoot someone for the umpteenth time.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Magnolia and rated “R” for strong violence, some drug content and language.)