Set in Paris in the year 2010, the violence and disorder in the ghettos have spiraled out of control. Unable to control the inhabitants who are mostly immigrants and their French-born offspring, the French government erects walls to contain the savagery and chaos. The residents of B13, both honest citizens and dastardly criminals have been deemed undesirable and are cut off from Paris and the outside world by a State that professes Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. The police have begun to pull out of the hopeless terrordome infested with drugs and guns, with the secret hope that the lowlifes will kill each other off -- thus, problem solved.
District 13 resident and anti-crime crusader Leito (Parkour co-founder David Belle), has taken it upon himself to fight the drugs and corruption in his neighborhood, bit by bit. He steals drugs from the poison purveyors and destroys them so that users don't get high and pushers don't get rich. This raises the ire of local crime boss (and serious coke fiend) Taha (Bibi Naceri), whom Leito wants to take down. During an attempt to topple Taha and bring him to justice, Leito is imprisoned and his sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) is taken by the drug lord and his henchmen, headed by K2 (the late Tony D'Amario). Now in prison, Leito is no longer a threat to Taha or the mob rule of B13, but there is a new menace that threatens the barrio -- a clean bomb that is set to explode in less than 24 hours and will wipe out the entire slum.
With the clock ticking and the fate of the banlieue hanging in the balance, the government sends in a member of an elite police unit, Capt. Damien Tamaso (Cyrill Rafelli -- the short blond guy who kicked Jet Li's ass in the final fight sequence of Kiss of the Dragon). Damien is tasked with gaining Leito's trust and help infiltrating B13 and Taha's cadre to locate and neutralize the bomb before it explodes and destroys a 15 block radius. However, Leito immediately pegs Damien as a cop and refuses to help him until Leito realizes that his sister Lola is being held captive as Taha's pet freak on a leash.
The film clicks at a rapid pace, corresponding to the short fuse of the bomb and the urgency of pinpointing it and Lola. It is mainly an action film that showcases the French sport of Parkour -- free running and movement over, under, and around man made and natural obstacles. David Belle showcases this intensely physical discipline of athleticism and acrobatics as he runs around B13 to save the day. A collateral casualty in the war between and among the government and the gangs, Leito represents the many inhabitants of these ghettos whose only transgression was being born in the wrong place. Sharing equal billing, but not to be upstaged is Rafaelli, an accomplished martial arts, acrobatic master and stuntman (who is a friend of Belle in real life). Raffaelli comes off well as the dedicated and unquestionably obedient civil servant Damien. His chemistry with Belle is superb and the two make excellent, although reluctant allies. Also of note are Naceri, who immediately evokes memories of Scarface, and D'Amario, who plays the seemingly doltish goon, K2, who acts as the brawn to Taha's brains. Verissimo was adequate as Lola, but nothing worthy of dedicating more than one sentence in this review.
Although released in France two years ago, it has just now reached U.S. theaters and DVD markets. The movie serves up a small dose of morality in in the form of political/social commentary in it's final scenes. Uncanningly, it resembles the recent events concerning the ghetto riots in Paris.
Banlieue 13 is a fun and action filled flick that does its job to entertain and tantalize. It's a great introduction to Parkour and a showpiece of the French action genre, complementing the Transporter (also featuring stunts by Rafaelli and direction by Luc Besson). Enjoyable from the first minute to the last, B13 delivers the goods.
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