The energetic but dopey French action saga "District B13" features an intriguing blend of martial arts and parkour, the recent street phenomenon that involves bounding through urban spaces at high speed, jumping from rooftops and acrobatically avoiding any obstacles that may impede your progress. Martial artist Cyril Raffaelli and parkour specialist David Belle play an idealistic cop and jailed vigilante who are teamed by the government to break into Paris' most notorious, walledoff suburb and retrieve a wayward nuclear device in the year 2010.
More athletes than actors, Raffaelli and Belle are terrific when their bodies are in motion but the movie grinds to a halt when they open their mouths. The typically moronic plot simply gets in the way of what might have been a super-ambitious sneaker commercial.
Things have gotten so bad in \o7banlieue\f7 13 -- the Paris suburb referred to in the title -- that officials have turned it into a de facto prison zone. The schools and public services have all closed down and as the last police precinct pulls out, the hyper-gymnastic Leito (Belle) defiantly destroys a local drug lord's cache of heroin. The kingpin, Taha (Bibi Naceri, who also co-scripted), gets revenge by kidnapping Leito's sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) and forcing a corrupt police officer to throw Leito in the slammer.
On the outside, Damien (Raffaelli), a kickboxing undercover super-cop with flashy guns to match his fast feet, takes down a Latino gangster's gambling establishment single-handedly. He's immediately recruited for the dangerous assignment of tracking down the rogue nuke that has fallen into the hands of the dastardly Taha.
Damien's first task is to go undercover as a fellow prisoner and help Leito escape. Leito's motivation to help Damien with Taha is Lola, whom Taha has strung out on drugs and leads around on a dog leash.
Produced and co-written by Luc Besson, "District" is a lot less fun than his similar "Transporter" films. Raffaelli and Belle lack the gruff charm Jason Statham displayed in those movies, which, in general, move so quickly the audience doesn't have time to dwell on how dumb they are. Director Pierre Morel (a cinematographer who worked on both "Transporter" films) capably films Raffaelli and Belle displaying their action chops but is unable to do anything with the tediousness of the uninspired script. See it if you must, but if you're simply curious about \o7parkour\f7, you'd be better served searching for some of Belle's videos on the web. "Rush Hour," a commercial for BBC One, is particularly entertaining.
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, some drug content and language
A Magnolia Pictures release. Director Pierre Morel. Producer Luc Besson. Screenplay by Besson, Bibi Naceri. Cinematographer Manuel Teran. Editor Frederic Thoraval. Costume designers Alexandre Rossi, Martine Rapin. Music DA Octupuss. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
In general release.