Inject about a million of cups of coffee into a major artery and you’ll approximate the caffeine rush of “District B13.”
The action is so nonstop even the hardest-core martial-arts fans might need to pause for a breath. Unfortunately, much of it is so repetitive, the film feels like a rerun of itself at times, while the story lapses into simple-mindedness.
The premise also strains credibility — sections of Paris turned into a lawless walled ghetto just a few years from now — but don’t necessarily hold that against “District B13.” By their very existence, most action movies stretch believability.
Pierre Morel, making his directing debut after frequent collaborations as cinematographer with producer and co-writer Luc Besson, has a dynamic duo in Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle. As lead actors, the veteran stuntmen don’t exactly ooze dramatic charisma, yet each is a whirlwind of liquid motion with his own distinct action style in fight and chase sequences.
Belle plays Leito, a former denizen of District B13, a no man’s land virtually abandoned by authority and controlled by gun-toting, drug-dealing gangs. Now in prison, Leito dreams of returning to District B13 to rescue his sister, Lola (Dany Verissimo), a doped-up pet of the zone’s top mobster, Taha (Bibi Naceri, who wrote the screenplay with Besson).
After a neutron bomb falls into Taha’s hands — did we mention the premise strains credibility? — super-cop Damien (Raffaelli) is teamed with Leito to storm District B13 and disarm the device before it zaps millions of Parisians into nonexistence.
Choreographing his own fight scenes, Raffaelli comes up with some dazzlingly bone-crunching kicks, blows and gunplay, particularly in a casino raid early in the movie.
Belle is the originator of an action style called “parkour,” highlighted by fluid, lightning-fast momentum. It’s on constant display in “District B13” as Leito eludes pursuers with grand hurdles, ascents and tumbles that often resemble the leaps and bounds of extreme snowboarding or skateboarding.
In small doses, Belle’s kinetics work breathlessly, but the scenes drag on too long.
Besson and Naceri craft idiosyncratic bad guys with far more personality than most big-screen thugs. Naceri has a blast playing Taha, infusing the man with a gleefully murderous and merciless streak. As Taha’s hulking lieutenant K2, Tony D’Amario adds wry comic relief.
There are editing and continuity miscues that would be serious distractions in a normal-paced movie. With everyone and everything moving maniacally in “District B13,” those defects shrink to small nuisances.