Futuristic action film 'District 13', set in Paris circa 2010, is little more than a showcase, albeit an exceptionally enjoyable one, for new urban extreme sport Parkour. Invented by Frenchman David Belle, Parkour involves negotiating an urban landscape by gracefully vaulting, leaping and climbing over and through rooftops, balconies, building sites and other obstacles of the built-up environment. A superbly toned Belle displays his skills to their fullest ability in this Luc Besson-scripted and produced film, playing a man from B13, one of the now walled-in Parisian ghettos.
A typical gangs-fighting-for-territory opening soon speeds up with noble street thug Leïto (Belle) taking off through windows, down the sides of buildings and across rooftops with a set of violent crooks in hot pursuit. After 20 minutes of breathless action, the film changes focus to a no-less athletic undercover police officer, Damien (film fight choreographer Raffaelli), as he clears out an underground casino as easily as if he's playing a computer game. His next assignment is to disarm a nuclear bomb that B13's evil crime lord Taha (Naceri) has gotten his hands on but to do this he needs to enlist a reluctant Leïto's help. Leïto doesn't care about working with cops but, with his sister (Verissimo) kidnapped by Taha and his home in danger, he doesn't have much of a choice.
While there's an intriguingly dark view of class conflict in France and a great conspiracy twist, 'District 13's teaming of opposites is a standard buddy cop flick situation. But the sheer physicality of the duo here is what makes the film such an exhilarating ride. Bone-crunching action is set to pounding techno as the two charismatic and remarkably talented leads show off their stuff. Bibi Naceri plays a brilliantly bad crime kingpin and Dany Verissimo is suitably feisty and gorgeous as Leïto's younger sister.
In the way that the breathless action of 1998's 'Run Lola Run' made people forget that they were watching a subtitled film, 'District 13' has the same ability to grab non-arthouse film fans. While audiences won't be sticking around for the often-nonsensical plot, they'll be glued to their seats by David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli's slick acrobatics. Thoroughly entertaining.