District 13(Pierre Morel). 85 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (June 2). For venues and times, see Movies, page 195. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Let's hope there's room amidst the carefully calibrated U.S. summer blockbusters for a smart and stylish French actioner.
District 13 , co-written and produced by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Nikita), is an entertaining popcorn pic with just enough social commentary to make you feel like you're not slumming. It's Paris 2010, and crime-ridden suburban neighbourhoods have been walled off by the government. In the titular district, tattoo'd vigilante Leto ( David Belle ) is fighting crime in his own way, until drug lord Taha ( Bibi Naceri ) kidnaps his sister and banishes him to jail (the cops are corrupt, bien sûr). Meanwhile, undercover cop Damien ( Cyril Raffaelli ) has just brought down a Latino crime lord when he's forced to break into District 13 -- accompanied by Leto -- to diffuse a neighbourhood-destroying bomb.
The formulaic plot, underscored by a disturbing (and, considering last year's riots, apropos) motif about undesirables, is really an opportunity for Raffaelli and Belle to show off their jaw-dropping martial arts moves.
Naceri steals a few scenes -- look for the coke-filled Scarface homage. But the real star is director (and former cinematographer) Pierre Morel , who captures action more gracefully than recent American efforts.