September 28, 2006
Paris 2010. Crime has gotten so bad that certain neighbourhoods have been walled off a la Escape from New York (1981). We are quickly introduced to Leito (Belle) who it seems has ripped off Taha (Naceri), a local crime lord, of a lot of his drugs and then proceeds to dispose of them. Of course, Taha’s cronies track him down in order to retrieve it and he leads them on a breathtaking chase through an apartment building, over the rooftops of several others and finally through another building before losing them in a demonstration of acrobatic prowess reminiscent of Tony Jaa (Ong Bak). Welcome to District B13 (2004).
So, Taha kidnaps Leito’s sister Lola (Verissimo) in order to draw him out of hiding. It works and he pops in and escapes with his sister and Taha at gunpoint. They hightail it to the nearest border police with Taha’s small army in hot pursuit. However, fearing that he and his men will be slaughtered, the police chief lets Taha go with Lola and throws Leito in jail. And this all takes place in the first 20 minutes!
Six months later and we meet Damien (Raffaelli), an undercover cop who has the balls to bust a crime lord in his own heavily armed casino and then proceeds to single-handedly take out every one of the guy’s henchmen through bone-crunching martial arts and gunplay. His superiors assign him a new job: to retrieve a neutron bomb that is set to go off in 23 hours. It turns out that Taha and his gang stole it but Damien’s going to need some help to find it – Leito. In order to gain his trust, Damien poses as a criminal but it isn’t going to be that easy as Leito figures out that he’s a cop within minutes.
What makes District B13 work is the charisma of the two protagonists, especially Leito. At first, you think he’s some junkie scumbag but he doesn’t use or sell the drugs, he destroys them. Not to mention that your heart goes out to him once you see his sister get snatched by the bad guys and then turned into a zombified junkie. Leito also has mad skills, jumping, punching and kicking anything that stands in his way. Even though Damien doesn’t have something personal at stake like Leito (and so you root for him slightly less) but he doesn’t want to see two million die if that bomb goes off. Like Leito, he’s an accomplished fighter but his forte is with guns.
If District B13 feels like the premise of Escape from New York mixed with the aesthetic of Transporter (2002), it’s because Luc Besson co-wrote this film and The Transporter. And like with that film, Besson strips it down to the basic genre conventions, keeping the running time down to a lean 89 minutes. District B13 has a crisp, slick look with fast-paced, kinetic action and a thumping, pulsating electronica soundtrack that matches the visuals perfectly. This is a wonderful piece of eye candy and a lot of fun to watch if you’re into these kinds of adrenaline-rush action movies.
“Making of District B13” features cast and crew members talking about how quickly the film came together and praising the script’s timely socio-political critique. Amazingly, most of the main actors are primarily known as comedians although you wouldn’t know it from watching this movie. We also get some insight into how a few of the stunts were pulled off including rehearsal footage of the stunt men practicing fight moves and choreographing elaborate stunts.
“Extended Fight Scene – Casino” presents a slightly longer, slightly more violent version of the exciting casino action sequence where Damien takes on many bad guys.
Finally, there are “Outtakes,” a collection of blown lines and goofs during the fight scenes.