Walls go up around ghettos, and the people inside are going nuclear. Sound familiar? District B13 is an apocalyptic action message movie with a distinct French flare.
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.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.