District B13

American filmmakers have forgotten how to make a good action movie.  The standard-bearer nowadays is Frenchman Luc Besson.  Besson dabbles in all sorts of genres (he has produced recent films like Transporter 2, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and Unleashed) but at heart, he knows how to please his audience.  District B13 most closely resembles Ong-Bak:  Thai Warrior (which Besson also produced) as a gleefully silly ode to pure action.  Everything that happens is patently ridiculous, but things move so quickly, fluidly, and beautifully, that it's hard to care.  There are explosions, gunfights, and car chases, but those are kept to a minimum, and District B13 focuses solely on the human form.

Besson (Transporter 2, Unleashed) wrote the script with Bibi Naceri (The Code, Retour en Ville), and the story plays out like a bit of The Transporter mixed in with Ong-Bak and a healthy dose of Run Lola Run.  The plot is deceptively simple.  Two men, Leito (David Belle, Divine Intervention, Femme Fatale) and Damien (Cyril Raffaelli, Crimson Rivers 2, Kiss of the Dragon) must fight their way though a huge gang to defuse a bomb and save Leito's sister Lola (Dany Verissimo, The Green Butchers).

There is something so wonderful and joyous about the way that Belle and Raffaelli fly across the screen.  Belle is one of the inventors of Parkour, a French sport where people climb and jump to get past things as quickly and directly as possible.  What does this mean?  It means that the audience is lucky enough to watch the two protagonists jump over people, over cars, jump off buildings, and seemingly defy the laws of gravity as they scale up and down the sides of buildings.  It's exhilarating stuff, and the two never seem to slow down as they race across the city.  Stairs, doors, and fences are never an issue; they just jump under, over, or through them to the beat of thumping techno music.  The level of physicality is intense, and most of the stunts are performed without the benefit of special effects or wires.  This is incredibly impressive when Belle jumps across buildings.  For some of the better shots, Morel repeats them in slow motion or from another angle.  And in a move that shows how truly different this is from American action films, and director Pierre Morel edits it correctly, giving viewers the best possible look of what is happening, and lingering long enough to see the entire sequence.

It is deceptively simple, with events rooted in recent events Pierre Morel (who has worked previously with Besson as a cinematographer and director of photography) some heft to his story.  District B13 is one of the banlieues, or ghetto type areas where minorities congregate.  In the near future, they became so dangerous that France erected walls around them.  Now, anarchy reigns inside.  It sounds a bit like Israel erecting walls to keep out Palestinians mixed with some of the riots earlier in France this year.  Will most people watching realize this?  Probably not.  They'll just sit in awe as Belle and Raffaelli fly across the screen.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 25 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for strong violence, some drug content, and language.

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