District B13 (2006)
Release Date: June 2nd, 2006 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Pierre Morel Actors: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Tony D’Amario, Larbi Naceri, Dany Verissimo
hough many Luc Besson fans may be distraught over his lengthy hiatus from helming spectacular actioners, there are still plenty of films he wrote that are capable of filling the void of this loss. One such film is “District B13.” As in “The Transporter” and “Danny the Dog” before it, Besson’s influences are clearly present, even if his name is not in the director’s spot. Brimming with war-torn post-apocalyptic surroundings, stunning martial arts fight sequences, and a surplus of over-the-top villains, “District B13” oozes Besson’s stylistic visions (with regular collaborator Pierre Morel directing).
While the futuristic setting of a demolished, gang-ridden Paris may have been done before, it certainly lends itself to an excellent backdrop for a gritty martial arts extravaganza. The film opens with an intricate winding camera tour of the aforementioned city ruins, leading viewers to Barrio 13, the walled-in home of primary antihero, Leito (David Belle). He’s stolen a large quantity of drugs from the local kingpin, Taha (Larbi Naceri), who has sent his main henchman, the hilariously brutish K2 (Tony D’Amario) to retrieve it. What follows is an excellent foreshadowing of the unique brawls to come as Leito leads K2 and his cronies through a wild, frenetic chase across decaying buildings and desolate complexes (utilizing parkour, the sport co-created by Belle).
Upon Leito’s escape, K2 (with some drastic motivation by Taha) devises a plan to use Leito’s kid sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) as bait to draw him out of hiding. Leito, seemingly one step ahead of the bad guys at all times, heroically comes to her rescue in an explosive assault on Taha’s fortress lair. Though he momentarily triumphs, his success is cut short by the crooked police force, which imprisons him and allows Lola to be kidnapped by Taha.
Six months pass. Blind to the harsh realities of Paris’ dire situation by his ambitions for honest law enforcement, elite police squadron member Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) is recruited by the government to complete an impossible mission. Taha has stolen a neutron bomb, requiring Damien to team up with Leito, the only man who can sneak him into the kingpin’s heavily fortified headquarters, in an effort to deactivate it. And Leito must unwillingly accept this grim partnership, as it may be his only chance to save his sister.
“District B13” delivers on every visceral level, accentuated by the provision of astonishing martial arts action in a raw, unflinching style. Filled with enough insane stunts, car chases, and hand-to-hand combat to sate even the most jaded action film junkie, it’s a riveting experience that forgoes wirework and special effects for jaw-dropping physical prowess. Even when a quick cut or strategic angle heightens the slickness of a few sequences, the astonishing degree of agility possessed by the two lead actors is still quite apparent.
As with most Luc Besson inspired projects, “District B13” contains plenty of outrageously immoderate villains. Both Naceri and D’Amario are perfectly cast as Taha and K2 respectively, the former being the twisted gang overlord with obligatorily effective motivational tactics, and the latter the hulking, inept thug who can’t seem to accomplish the outwardly simple tasks at hand. A lot of the humor in the film lies with the antagonists, a much-needed change from the typical, annoying sidekicks found in recent adventure films. Laughs here tend to go hand-in-hand with the unique choreography and gratuitous violence – all elements made more potent without the hindrance of an overly complex or domineering plotline.
– Joel Massie