District B13 (2004)

The plot : The French government has erected giant walls around the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. Inside these walls its a veritable jungle, with the strongest (and ofter most corrupt) ruling.

This is the directorial debut of Pierre Morel. He has worked as the cinematographer on Danny the Dog (a.k.a. Unleashed) and the Transporter. If this movie gives you a sense of deja vu, don’t worry just flow with it.

The movie follows the recent Ong Bak trend of action movies in that there is very little plot or a somewhat lacking storyline but is compensated for by bone crunching and realistic action/athletic sequences, albeit in this case with a French flavor.

After the opening “fly through” of the barrio we get a glimpse at one of the protagonists, Leito (David Belle). Leito is a neighborhood kid who does a good impersonation of Daredevil (minus the blindness, white stick or red outfit). While surround by crime, Leito manages to keep honest and actually fights back against the neighborhood drug lord, Taha.

This is the first 20 minutes of the movie, and it was simply awesome. David Belle is co-founder of a sport called Parkour. It is some Euro-Asian fusion of martial arts and running. There was a Nike commercial (?? – it was definitely a sneaker ad) where this man kept jumping off of random things. The whole point was he didn’t stop, no matter what was in his way. It seems to be some improvisational running, where you figure out ways to get around things. This opening sequence involves a lot of running at full speed and some fighting inside, outside and on top of an apartment building. The pace for the sequence is fast and awe-inspiring.

We are then transported 6 months into the future, where we are introduced to our second protagonist, Damien (Cyril Raffaelli). Damien is the decorated, “straight as an arrow” cop. He follows order and does whatever is necessary (within the law) to get the job done. Damien’s 20 minute introduction takes place in an illegal casino. This is the actual sequence that reminds me the most of Ong Bak (the mêlée combat). It has a similar style (of course without Tony Jaa’s proficiency), complete with the bone-wrenching “oomphs”. Cyril may seem familiar to fans of the action genre. He has been in numerous actions flicks as well, staring in Kiss of the Dragon and as a stunt man in the Transporter and Brotherhood of the Wolf.

The first two sections of the movie contain the character development, while the last section handles the plot. A new type of bomb has been stolen. It has a 24 hour detonation timer on it that is activated once the case is opened. Damien is sent in to defuse it (namely to enter a code that defuses the already active bomb). The bomb is somewhere in B13 and Leito is “volunteered” to be his guide.

The movie was definitely enjoyable, yet lacking much of a story or a finale. I was reminded of Ong Bak and especially of the Transporter. These movies (along with B13) seem to have a rather simplistic finale. The world is a generally good place where a few bad apples take advantage of the good. Most of the time, the good simply do not know the “bad people” exist. They just need someone to tell them and then collectively the good “do the right thing” (which is always done through lawful and sometimes legislative means). There are other movies (like most of Jackie Chan’s movies) that have similar endings. This is not so much a criticism as an observation.

There were some scenes that made me go “huh”.

Why does everyone have their names on the doors ? I’m sure each of the characters probably also have their names sewn into their boxers. I did enjoy Taha’s Tony Montana impression. It was quite a funny scene. Lastly, I would have liked a more extended fight scene with Yeti, but otherwise, was a good sequence. Outside of the action sequences, there were some instances of gun-play. This was definitely not John Woo, but I was reminded of the Professional (Besson does have writing credits).

I thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced action, buddy movie (reminded me of 48 Hours or Rush Hour – except without the comical cop/con routine). I highly recommend this movie for action fans.

Review by CelluloidRehab

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