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Movie Review: Banlieue 13 (District B13) (2004)

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District B13The French action movie District B13 came to Columbus last weekend and showed at the Arena Grand Theater. A fast-paced and volatile mix of Jackie Chan style fighting scenes with a touch of sci-fi, the relatively low budget flick has only modest goals but at least it succeeds in achieving them.

The movie is set in the near future in Paris, a city which has been divided into districts, the worst of which are sealed off from the rest of society. Rival gangs vie for control of the worst of these districts, B13. One civilian, Leito, fights against the drugs and chaos of this district. Another, a police officer named Damien, also fights against the corruption. When the biggest gang leader in district B13 gets his hands on a nuclear weapon, Damien recruits Leito to help him recover the device.

As far as the action goes, the movie is quite fun to watch. The scenes with Leito especially are entertaining, producing innovative and kinetic sequences reminiscent of the best of Jackie Chan. The young actor playing Leito, David Belle, proves himself a proficient athlete in handling the role. The story is perfectly serviceable, provided one is willing to overlook some plot points which strain credulity. As long as these do not bother you, the story is just enough to get the action going and the actors have enough presence to make you at least somewhat interested in them.

District B13On the down side, the movie is in French. Now I don’t care to be associated with those fools who started eating Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast when the French did not feel like dropping bombs on Iraqi civilians. And I didn’t support any boycotts of French products either. I have traveled in France and found both the country and the people to be very agreeable. But seriously, the French language is atrocious. When a 6-foot, 300-pound bad ass whips out a gun and — just when your adrenaline starts to pump — starts to speak French, the effect is ruined. French sounds like two gay men shopping for pink silk scarves, which is all well and good in the right time and place. An action movie is not the right time and place. But then again, it’s a French movie, so what are you going to do? They did the best with what they had to go on.

And that’s pretty much the theme of this movie. It’s not supposed to be great art, but it is fun. The producers found themselves with a passable script and a modest budget and wound up with a fun movie, even if it’s in and out of your system like a Mexican buffet.

The Upside:
The movie is fun for those who appreciate fight choreography. The lead actors have decent presence and the movie is a good time. It did what it tried to do.
The Downside:
It simply did not try to do very much. There are some plot points which might make you groan.
On the Side:
If they make a sequel, they should do it with German actors so they at least sound tough.

Making the Grade: C

Film Stats:
Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Tony D’Amario
Directed by: Pierre Morel
Writing Credits: Luc Besson, Bibi Naceri
Country: France
MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, some drug content and language.
Run Time: 85 min.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures (official site)
Watch the Trailer Here

By Matthew Alexander, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects.

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  • http://www.genericmugwump.com/ Aaron Fleming

    You’re right, this film is brilliant fun. There’s little story, it is mainly a vehicle for the two main stars to show off their action skills, which they do so very well indeed. David Belle interestingly, and unsurprisingly, was one of the founders of Parkour, that free-running movement where people jump around on rooftops and so on.

    The film goes into that cauldron of extremely entertaining no-brainer action films, along with the likes of Ong Bak and The Story of Ricky.

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