Banlieue 13 [District B13] (2004)

(In theaters, June 2006) French cinema has often threatened to become an action powerhouse, but attempts so far have proved disappointing and -worse- fleeting. Still, writer/producer Luc Besson tries and tries again, and with Banlieue 13, he may come closest to replicating the insane energy of Jackie Chan films. Loosely set in a dystopian near-future where whole districts of Paris lie fallow and ungoverned, Banlieue 13 uses parkour and street fighting as inspiration for action scenes, with stunts that are good enough to leave you gasping. The narrative set-up is interesting (though ultimately disappointing, in no small part thanks to Besson’s predictable distrust of authority), but never mind the story: what really shines here are the two lead actors (Cyril Raffaelli and parkour guru David Belle), who kick and punch and jump their way to the end. They’re enormously likable characters, so let’s hope that they can keep it up: action cinema is often a matter of leads, and these two seem perfectly able to carry a film on their shoulders. As for the rest, well it’s almost all good: there is a definite lack of women in this macho film and the social commentary is overdone, but the film as a whole is dynamic, fresh and fun-fun-fun. Now let’s see the next one.

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