DVD Review: District B13
If you enjoy the "Look mom, no wires!" action work of Jackie Chan and rising star Tony Jaa, particularly their uncanny ability to turn urban landscapes into their own jungle gyms, you're the target audience for this new DVD release from France.
It's a dream come true for action movie fans, boasting not one but two death-defying stuntmen-turned-actors in its starring roles. Further cementing its action cred, it's co-written by French titan Luc Besson, the man solely responsible for putting France on the map for action movies.
The film takes place in a futuristic French slum controlled by an evil gang lord with grand ambitions. When he gains possession of a powerful bomb, it's up to an undercover cop and a scrappy resident to foil his plans.
At its heart, it's a buddy movie with two guys from opposite sides of the tracks who band together to save the world. That's all the framework the film needs. It doesn't go out of its way to flesh out the concept, instead relying on dizzying action sequences to satisfy the audience.
As the film opens, local street tough Leito (David Belle) is holed up near the top floor of an apartment building while destroying large quantities of drugs confiscated from the resident gang. He lives in the crime-infested ghetto, but he's not a criminal. He's got a heart of gold and he's out to save his community from the evils of drugs and gangs.
When the gang interrupts his progress, he leads them on an incredible chase in, around, and over the hallways and outside walls and roofs of the neighboring buildings, doling out numerous fists and feet of fury in the process. The soundtrack swells with driving techno beats throughout the sequence, further enhancing the best action sequence of the film.
Shortly after Leito's amazing run, the film abruptly switches gears to focus on an entirely new character named Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) as he infiltrates the crime syndicate. This transition is incredibly jarring as there's no explanation of who this new character is or how he's related to the previous scene.
Since he's in disguise when first introduced and dives immediately into an intense action sequence highlighting his physical prowess, the audience is mistakenly led to believe he's Leito. Eventually it becomes clear that the film has two outstanding action stars instead of just one.
As with most action movies, the film leads up to a final showdown with the main baddie. Based on the fireworks in their solo scenes, it seems primed for an unbelievable event when the two stars team up together. Unfortunately, the final fight fizzles rather than dazzles, showcasing a little impressive work but never really delivering on the promise of the earlier scenes.
It's almost as if they ran out of time or inspiration for the final fight choreography, wasting a golden opportunity to elevate the film to classic status. As it stands, the film is a showcase for the amazing stunt work of the lead actors. Its futuristic setting and relentless pace enhance it, but it just misses the mark of greatness.
The DVD offers subtitle and dub options for both the purists and the reading-challenged, as well as an extended fight scene, a behind the scenes feature, and outtakes.
[Editor's Note: This post is authored by Caballero Oscuro.]