District B13

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 09/21/05 05:08:55

"Just When I Thought All Luc Besson Produced-Action Sucked..."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to find the answer to those Transporter supporters. (About two weeks.) The white man-as-martial-arts-spectacular never really reached the promise of Steven Seagal or Jeff Speakman, both of whom may have cursed the entire concept forever. Jason Statham has the appeal but not the directors yet to make him a viable force. Pierre Morel was the cinematographer on the original Transporter and must have learned from the many mistakes because his first effort giving the orders has resulted in one of the best adrenaline rushes since we saw Lola running for 90 minutes.

Owing more than a few nods to John Carpenter, the film takes place in a futuristic world where the less desirable areas of a city and siphoned off with huge walls and security guards. The scum roam free inside the walls and go about their illegal business while the cops and the government generally look the other way. What starts off as your usual gangs-fighting-for-territory milieu quickly thrusts into a full-blown action spectacle when noble criminal (David Belle) jettisons on foot through windows, above doors, over rooftops and down the sides of buildings in one of the best foot chases ever captured on film. Doubt me? Let your eyes be the judge and take a look (

The acrobatics staged by Belle are not computer-generated, not repeated ad nauseum as in the “hey, did you see that - four times?” Ong-Bak and not subject to the slow motion of Col. Steve Austin. You are forced to keep up and the sheer exhaustion of keeping your “wows” in check captures the rollercoaster pace that Morel wants.

The initial 20 minutes you will want to replay in your head over and over again as the good guys get the jump on the baddies in so many creative ways that you may find yourself in mourning as the final blow of act one finally shifts gears. Not in pacing, just to another bad-ass (Cyril Raffaelli) on law’s side, taking out the garbage during an undercover sting gone awry. The sheer anticipation of having these two heroes team up for anything is like being a kid knowing your Christmas presents are in the next room.

Raffaelli’s Damien is assigned to a hair-trigger situation when a bomb is stolen by the Scarface-wannabe Taha (Bibi Naceri) and taken within the walls of District 13. With Belle’s Leito keen to Taha’s surroundings, Damien enlists him as a partner even while he can smell a cop a mile away. Leito could care less about the politics of the situation and just wants to save his home and the firecracker sister (Dany Verissimo) whom Taha has turned into his own Princess Leia (circa Return of the Jedi.)

The only true disappointment of Morel’s work is that he’s frontloaded so ferociously that nothing short of Belle & Raffaelli taking on 200 guys at a time will satisfy its climactic showdown. The action is by no means bad but comes up a solid third and fourth in the major set pieces spread throughout. It also falls victim (and hard) to a preachy anti-violence final scene which borders Seagal’s oil speech at the end of On Deadly Ground and is rampant with irony considering it comes at the tailend of present company kicking the crap out of anything on two legs for the previous 75 minutes. Not to mention two Transporter flicks, most Jackie Chan films from the past decade and anything starring Jet Li since he came stateside.

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