District B13 

Directed by Pierre Morel

In District B13 the Parisian banlieue plays the fenced-off Escape From New York role that today’s cleancut New York can no longer handle. But in this gung–ho French B–movie, the setting, like most of the film, is an afterthought to the gecko–like skitterings of its agile heroes, slum renegade Leito (David Belle) and undercover cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli). Teaming up to battle le district crime boss over an errant nuke, they carom off walls, pour themselves through windows and escape–hatches, and outwit witless thugs.

I would like to say that this latest from Luc Besson’s factory is plain dumb fun, with its charmingly unreflective grade–school earnestness, Awesome Fight Scene self–defense–tape setpieces, and 80s–corny one–liners. At times it is, especially in the fleet–footed opening chase and in a botched sting operation that takes place Houdini–like in a box–like room. And I like the old professionalism routine between Damien and Leito, who tells the cop he can suss out the academy training in his expert but soulless movement, or the fact that, never mind the nuke, big brother Leito mainly wants to save his peppercorn of a sister from the big boss.

But it’s too obvious that first-time director Pierre Morel (cinematographer of The Transporter and Unleashed ) struggles to put one scene after another in the seamless manner that invites mindless enjoyment. Even the movie’s 85 minutes can drag as you wait for Belle and Raffaelli to chest–thump and chat their way to the next scrap. Still, there’s always something about unassuming stuntmen–actors like these two that lets you isolate and respect their work if not the big picture.

Opens June 2

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