District B13 (France, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

District B13 is action porn. It's a series of amazingly choreographed, kinetic action sequences tied together by a laughably bad script and worse acting. Substitute sex for violence and you'd have a typical hardcore XXX feature. The director is Pierre Morel, a cinematographer making his directing debut, but it should come as no surprise to see Luc Besson's name as both a screenwriter and producer. Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional) has spent most of his career proving to the world that not all movies coming out of France have to be slow and talky. He's the anti-Rohmer. Nowhere is that more evident than in something like District B13.

The year is 2010. The place is Paris. The city's ghettos have been walled in to keep the "undesirable" elements of the population from spilling into the more affluent areas. Within ghetto District B13, the criminal element holds sway - not even the police will intervene. Drug lord Taha (Larbi Naceri) is the power here, aided by his enforcer, K2 (Tony D'Amario). Into District B13 come an unlikely pair: undercover cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) and vigilante Leito (David Belle). Damien has been ordered to find and defuse a stolen nuclear weapon. Leito is looking for his kidnapped sister, Lola (Dany Verissimo). With coincident objectives, they form an alliance to go against Taha and his men. The allegorical nature of the plot will likely escape many international viewers, even though it's hammered home with the subtlety of a jackhammer.

District B13 is a stream of fight scenes and chase scenes, each more elaborate than the next. All of the stunts appear to have been done by real human beings (not CGI cut-outs), and the level of martial arts is extreme, besting (or at least equaling) some of the impressive pictures to have come out of Asia. Perhaps the most memorable sequence is the opening one, which introduces Leito. The camera follows him as he leaps from building to building, swings like Tarzan, and runs across rooftops, up ladders, and down stairways with a group of bad guys on his tail. The action scenes are executed with so much flair and energy that Morel nearly succeeds in making us forget about how thin the connective tissue is. Nearly - but not quite.

Do I recommend the film? Only to action junkies who don't care about things like plot and character development. District B13 rumbles along at a breakneck pace, only occasionally braking for exposition and, in those instances, the pauses don't last long. The subtitles shouldn't be an issue. Dialogue serves little purpose beyond interrupting the film's techno score, and understanding it won't result in a greater appreciation of the director's efforts. District B13 is one of those films where you appreciate the artistry of violence, then forget about it as soon as you get into the car and head home.

District B13 (France, 2006)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2006-06-02
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1