Walls are going up around the ghettos in the year 2010 as the French government reacts to violence in Paris. The criminals within the walls are left to kill each other--until that is they decide to unite and get their dirty hands on a nuclear bomb. A bald-headed super-cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) is brought in to diffuse the situation but he needs a partner to get inside and come across as credible to the criminals within the walls. So Damien's recruits a spidery character Leito (David Belle) who has some motivation because his kid sister has been kidnapped by the same creep Taha (Bibi Naceri) who is the mastermind controlling the bomb. An army of well-muscled beefcakes then must battle to save the world and the girl--after of course plenty of blood gets spilled and lots of cars get crunched. No one really is as much of a good-guy as he may seem at first. You can’t expect much acting from a fast-action martial arts fight film like this but a few guys shine--and believe it or not they're stunt men by trade. Belle and Raffaelli are handsome hunks who are full of personality as they invade the most dangerous district among the ghettos B13. Raffaelli comes across as a softer Vin Diesel and Belle is a grittier Keanu Reeves-like pretty boy with a hard edge. They deliver lines with such irony and gravity that come off as quite funny. For example Damien lectures a group of gang bangers who have just beaten him to a pulp by saying with all seriousness "You know violence isn't always the best way to solve things." It's also fascinating to note that the most evil of the characters Naceri is one of the screenplay's co-writers along with Luc Besson the French director of La Femme Nikita. Naceri is effectively bad-ass as a murderous drug addict. He's the kind of guy you want to see fall--really hard. Cinematographer Pierre Morel is responsible for some of the more masterful moments in the Transporter movies as well as the sensitive Bernardo Bertolucci coming-of-age film The Dreamers. So making District B13 his first feature film as a director is a perfect idea. After being released internationally last year the movie was cut to a lean 75 minutes--and although the film was finished two years ago it's as timely as ever as a morality tale since riots have recently broken out in the Paris suburbs. It's fast action all right and like fast food it goes through you quickly maybe enjoyably but lacking much substance.
Top Bejing cop Liu Jian (Jet Li) conveniently called "Johnny" for us Americans is called by French police to capture a Chinese druglord hiding out in Paris. Johnny teams with a devious and dishonest French cop Richard (Tcheky Karyo) who double-crosses him leaving him framed for a murder and on the lam. Not only is Richard head of the Parisian police he happens to be the City of Lights' leading pimp and he's forced ex-junkie Jessica (Bridget Fonda) into cheap whoredom by holding her young daughter hostage. Johnny befriends Jessica and together they go after Richard armed with her street smarts and his--acupuncture needle bracelet? No kidding it's Johnny's secret weapon that he uses to put his enemies out of action.
Let's face it Jet Li's way better at kung fu than tongue fu--the poor guy couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. But like his character Johnny Li is just a good guy trying to do the best job he can and you have to give him some credit for trying hard. Besides he's a damn good martial artist. Karyo is way over the top chewing the scenery like it was his last meal--he is impossibly vile killing and maiming just 'cause. But Fonda takes the cake for worst performance as--would you believe--a whiny melodramatic "farmer's daughter from North Dakota" turned out against her will. (Honestly what's her track record lately? Monkeybone? Lake Placid? Somebody call John Travolta--they've found his next leading lady!)
Director Chris Nahon known for making commercials begs borrows and steals from Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita starring none other than Bridget Fonda)--ooh guess what? Besson is KOD's co-writer and producer. Well at least the Nahon-Besson team could have connected the dots before trying to make the audience do it for them. Nothing's explained; even the most obvious questions go unanswered. Why is the bad guy so bad? Where are the cops as a fight rages on and on in the police headquarters? Not to mention these martial arts scenes (why else would you watch this? Certainly not for Li's "acting") lack creative flowing choreography and instead are choppily cut gratuitously vicious and sometimes downright gross (like a guy gets two chopsticks to the throat) acts of violence.