District B13

French action favorite returns from SIFF 2005.

District B13 With characters named K2 and the Yeti, this French cops-and-robbers flick certainly promises mountain-size action, but it's urban—not alpine. Instead of pristine snowy peaks, we have the derelict public housing tower blocks of Paris' near distant future, the now infamous banlieues from whence France's unemployed, mostly Muslim young rioters recently made their unhappiness heard. Garbage, junkies, wrecked cars, street gangs, pit bulls—here are all your dystopian ghetto tropes, the situation grown so bad that each banlieue district has been walled off like a prison, Escape From New York style, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in the "no-hope zone." (And, implicitly, kill one another off by government design.) However, the B13 block has a vigilante champion, Leïto (David Belle), who steals and destroys drugs from the dealers, who then come knocking, guns drawn. At this point, let's concede that acting is not the point here. Cinematographer (The Transporter) turned director Pierre Morel isn't interested in nuances of character or motivation. In B13's nifty opening sequence, he wants to show how the tattooed gymnast Belle can vault down stairwells without ever touching the tread, dive through transom windows, leap from balconies to rooftops, from rooftops to fire escapes, and from fire escapes to car tops. In the process, he fluidly kicks ass on a dozen goons, shaming their boss, who then kidnaps our hero's sister in retaliation. Flash forward a bit, and we meet Leïto's equal in ass-kicking, idealistic cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli, stunt man turned, ahem, actor). B13 is a buddy picture, Leïto's sister needs to be freed from the gangsters, and, oh, there's also a neutron bomb on a timer. To enjoy the film's lunatic momentum, you don't need to know anything more than that (other than a warning about the terrible techno music and French rap, an oxymoron if there ever was one). Raffaelli and Belle do their amazing stunts with a minimum of CG and wire-work and zero regard for gravity. The movie is pure macho mayhem, courtesy of producer Luc Besson, though it does stop occasionally for social commentary that is, no surprise, rather timely. To wit: "Colleges churn out kids with nothing to do," and the head gangster's droll observation that the feds won't even pay a ransom that values each individual life in the banlieue at less than the price of a Happy Meal.

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