Review

District B13 Review

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Jun 05, 2006 | 12:42pm EDT

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.

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