Escape from Paris
"District 13" could be described as taking the essence of John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" and updating it to a modern setting whilst fuelling the action with a mix of free running and martial arts. And just for good measure slip in a message that playing by the rules is much better than playing against them. Is it any good well from a storyline point of view "District 13" is not spectacular. But the action, the martial arts mixed with free running as the clock on a bomb ticks down is where it works, where "District 13" is at its most exciting.
In the not so distant future, out of control areas of Paris have been cordoned off, placed behind giant walls where the inhabitants rule themselves. In District 13, crime lord Taha (Bibi Naceri) controls everything and when he manages to steal a neutron bomb he sets about selling it despite accidentally launching the countdown timer. With less than 24 hours to diffuse the bomb, the French Government turn to ace cop Capt. Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) to get inside District 13 and stop a catastrophe from happening. His guide is a former resident, Le´to (David Belle) who 6 months earlier fell foul of Taha and was imprisoned by a spineless cop whilst Taha kidnapped his sister Lola (Dany Verissimo). With the clock ticking Damien and Le´to must work together but are what they working towards really the right thing.
There is a very clear split in "District 13" the first 40 minutes focus on building up the 2 main characters are heroes. Firstly we get a nice set up for Le´to the good guy in a bad district who is doing his best to keep his block of flats clean from the drug Lord Taha. All of which is mixed with action as Le´to escapes capture via running across roof tops, stairs and so on before taking the battle straight to Taha. Then we get introduced to Police Capt. Damien Tomaso who is as nifty on his feet as Le´to as he busts an undercover money laundering organization in a melee of martial arts and gun fire.
First half of the movie out of the way and introductions done we then get the main story, the bomb in District 13 with less than 24 hours to apparently defuse it. And what this means that whilst there is more actual storyline than in the first half as we watch Le´to and Damien get back into District 13 and come face to face with Taha we get mainly action followed by more action. There are chase scenes some on foot some with cars, a nifty and amusing battle with a giant of a man before Damien and Le´to come to blows with the seconds ticking away.
The thing is that whilst "District 13" does have a storyline and incorporates a couple of reasonably clever twists it is during the action it works best. From the chase scene during the first 10 minutes as Le´to avoids capture jumping through windows, across buildings all with a great sense of style through to the martial arts influenced fights it's all exciting fast paced stuff. And director Pierre Morel capitalizes on every ounce of the action by blending fast paced with slow motion to make "District 13" gripping stuff.
As for the acting well to be frank David Belle as Le´to and Cyril Raffaelli as Capt. Damien Tomaso do a capable job. They make a good double act and support each other during the scenes where they are required to demonstrate acting skills. But understandably they come into their own during the action scenes and deliver some of the most impressive action I have ever seen. Aside from this credible duo Bibi Naceri is adequately menacing as bad guy Taha and Tony D'Amario is quite amusing as henchman K2. But in all honesty none of the acting is brilliant but works well for a movie which obviously favours plenty of action.
What this all boils down to is that "District 13" is actually surprisingly good and can be enjoyed with or without subtitles. The actual storyline isn't that great and is reminiscent of John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" although it is a perfect vehicle for the action and throws up a couple of well worked surprises. But it is an action movie where it works best and the double act of David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli work together to provide plenty of adrenalin packed scenes be it martial arts.