District B13 (2006)

Say what you will about the French, they know how the craft a flamboyant action film. Or, at least, a certain Frenchman named Luc Besson knows how to craft a flamboyant action flick. He directed such stylized flicks as The Professional and The Fifth Element, decidedly human pictures despite all their action sequences. This time Besson is sticking strictly to the pen, writing the screenplay of District B13, a film similar in style to his own but perhaps not as human as his other efforts.

In 2010 Paris has reached an all time high of snootiness and decided to quarantine their ghetto into what is known as District B13. Born in these slums is do-gooder Leito (David Belle) who is trying to bring down the local drug lord, that is until his sister is kidnapped and he is imprisoned. Six months later Police Captain Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) is sent to recover a bomb from said drug lord and must team up with Leito to do it.

The two team up and use their insane skills of parkour to dodge baddies, flee hostile situations and create car wrecks. Because, seriously, guns are for wimps. Real men, jump, slide, swing and climb gracefully from rooftop to rooftop instead of punching their enemies in the face. There are more of the more traditional hand-to-hand brawls and some decent gunplay but a lot of the action is focused on all the agile parkor that is more fresh and elegant than another shootout sequence.

In some ways then the action doesn’t fit with this grimy underworld. It feels far too graceful to be set in such a grimy world. But perhaps in some way this is suggesting that this hero is far too clean, noble and agile to live in such a place. Likewise the film gets far too neat in its plotting when it tries to tidy up the last act. The way it wraps everything up in the last minutes is far too convenient and forced to feel natural. The film is short and the ending makes it feel truncated, almost as if they were forced to rush the film and cut out ten minutes worth of final footage. It ends up being cliché, implausible and not all that satisfying.

It also doesn’t help that the film is heavy-handed when it comes to exposition. Once again I endured an action picture where people come out and explain characters, motivations and plot points. It’s just sloppy writing and is never enjoyable to watch. Anytime people talk in this film I got bored. It was tedious to hear them explain everything. Even worse is the film has this little message it keeps pounding upon, making it this broad, sweeping overtone that pollutes the entire second half of the film

District B13 failed to ever gripping. The action is cool and graceful but all the trappings around it bored me. Poor writing led to exceptionally poor presentation of the plot and characters, making every non-action scene in the film dull. Rambling moments of dialogue and brief exchanges just feel like fluffy, ambiguous filling between the action set-pieces which are clearly where the film has its heart. I don’t know if I think this is a bad film, it just was extremely boring most of the time.

© 2009 James Blake Ewing

District B13 [Blu-ray]