Wednesday, June 7, 2006

District B13

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM

You've worn out your special-edition Transporter DVDs. You've seen every piece of badly dubbed crap they show on Cinemax in the middle of the night. Jean-Claude Van Damme is approaching retirement. What's a Eurotrash action fan to do?

Head to the art house, apparently. Hollywood once knew how to make flashy action films that relied on brute strength and minimal special effects. Now, it seems, the tough-guys-with-chips-on-their-shoulders genre seems to be the province of Europe and Asia, where they still churn out leaping, kicking, punching heroes faster than audiences can consume them.

Case in point: The slick new sci-fi action flick District B13. Hailing from France and produced and co-written by Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element), the movie marks the arrival of at least one potential fists-of-fury international superstar, Cyril Raffaelli. A former stunt director, the sinewy, stubbly Raffaelli has coordinated the action in The Transporter and Ronin, and his square jaw, rippling biceps and lighting-fast moves could give Jason Statham a run for his money. He's not bad with dialogue either, although that's hardly a requirement in a junky, high-octane spectacle like this.

A decent rip-off of John Carpenter's '80s classic Escape from New York, the setting is Paris in the year 2010. The government has decided the only way to control the city's violent underclass is to barricade the slums off from the outside world. (Any similarity to the uprisings in France in recent years is, you would assume, completely unintentional.) Behind each wall is a festering, decaying community of thugs, drug dealers and petty criminals.

In the B13 area, honest muscleman, Leïto (David Belle) works with his spunky sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) to take out the drug dealers who patrol their block. Also fighting the good fight is the one non-crooked cop in the city, Damien (Raffaelli), and after his latest daring bust, his supervisors have an even more treacherous assignment: A "clean bomb" has been stolen somewhere in B13, and Damien has to team up with Leïto, the only honest man who knows the area, to save millions of people.

B13 has all the clichés down-pat: the tattooed, mostly shirtless heroes, the ludicrously sleazy, coke-snorting thugs and a crime lord who looks like a middle-aged Gene Simmons. What's not to love? Better still, the script takes turns you don't expect, and director Pierre Morel plays clever tricks with the movie's chronology. Raffaelli and the somewhat-forced Belle have a decent rapport, and Verissimo is good enough to warrant her own action picture — which makes it a damn shame that she spends the second half bound and gagged like an old-fashioned damsel in distress.

But what's most important is that the film has all the acrobatic, Hong Kong-style fight choreography we've come to expect from Eurotrash cinema, and the high-flying Raffaelli can do far more with improvised weaponry — steering wheels, cinderblocks — than the Rock can with a handgun. Here's hoping his agent teaches him some English and gets him some meetings in Hollywood — and soon.

 

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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