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Published: Friday, 6/30/2006

Movie review: District B13 ***

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Leito (David Belle) moves among buildings in District B13. Leito (David Belle) moves among buildings in District B13.
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Were actual thugs, goons, and bald-headed minions harmed in the making of the French action picture District B13? They go down with such conviction indeed, so many goons go down with such conviction I imagine there was an open casting call in Paris for shifty-eyed lunatics willing to throw themselves down stairwells, over balconies, against slot machines, across tabletops, and into windshields.

I imagine heating pads being as popular as the free box lunches. These people play the gun-wielding personal military of the French Al Pacino Bibi Naceri, who also is a co-screenwriter here but resembles Pacino only in his superhuman feats of overacting. The French Al Pacino unofficially presides over B13, a vast ghetto outside Paris. The year is 2010, and the authorities built a wall between the Parisian haves and the suburban have-nots of

District B13. The French Al Pacino wants his drugs back.

Which brings us to the French Tom Cruise, played by David Belle. The French Tom Cruise is shirtless and has the French Al Pacino s cocaine. He wants to flush it down the drain and restore order to his dear slum. A chase ensues and (this is the cool part) the French Tom Cruise begins leaping across roofs, through windows, running up walls. He s a practitioner of the art of parkour a sort of extreme street sport that uses the urban landscape as a jungle gym and was invented by the French (just don t tell Jackie Chan that).

That about describes the first half hour of District B13 it s why an obscure French sci-fi variation on Escape from New York, shot on a shoestring (the money went into bullet casings and tank tops, I m guessing), would even make it as far as a Midwestern multiplex. Yes, there are pesky subtitles. But the producer is Luc Besson, the breathless action impresario (The Transporter, La Femme Nikita, and maybe 608 others), and if you think people in French films primarily smoke and talk Sartre, Luc Besson is here to remind you they still watch a lot of old Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, too.

District B13 made with great confidence but an energy that veers into hyperactivity reminds us why we like action films. Namely, it s the action. It takes just the right tact, however derivative it is. You could do worse; in fact, watching it as part of a double feature with Mission: Impossible III (which runs nearly an hour longer) would be a lesson in making an action movie versus an act of self-importance.

Between stunts (remarkable ones, given no digital help), the film pauses long enough to deliver a plot. The French Tom Cruise is captured. Meanwhile, the French Brad Pitt With a Receding Hairline (Cyril Raffaelli) is given a mission to disarm a nuke smuggled into B13. Naturally, if improbably, the French Tom Cruise and the French Brad Pitt With a Receding Hairline join forces to defuse the bomb.

It s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Besson has stumbled on a genius idea, though: Just cast the stunt men. Raffaelli was the stunt coordinator. Belle is a stunt man. It helps that they look like movie stars, but even better is that it s really them sliding through tiny windows and down the sides of apartment buildings. The kicks to the head get repetitive but the lack of fussiness is a revelation.

This being French, the film s not entirely without pretense. The bleak world of B13 resonates harshly off the riots that swept through France recently mostly the poor burning cars to protest their marginalization. But it could be anywhere. The title could refer to the South Bronx or Detroit. Not that you have time to think. The politics stay in the background until the finale, and like everything else in District B13, it moves by so fast, hits so quickly, you don t see it until you re collecting up teeth.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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