Banlieue 13 (France 2004)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 1/29/06
Director: Pierre Morel
Writer: Luc Besson
Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Dany Verissimo

Fantastic! It's bad enough that Hollywood can't make a decent action film, but to be outdone by the French is truly humiliating and is surely a sign of the apocalypse. Clearly inspired by early 80's Hong Kong cinema, "Banlieue 13" serves up an amazing amount of jaw dropping stuntwork and bodily abuse (albeit with the aid of wires and digital effects). In an obvious nod to John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" (1981), the French government has built walls around poor and dangerous neighborhoods in order to localize crime and contain society's undesirables. The most notorious neighborhood is Banlieue 13, which is ruled by drug kingpin Taha. When a top secret bomb falls into Taha's possession, it's up to supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) and a street tough criminal named Leito (David Belle) to break into B13, defuse the bomb, and rescue Leito's sister from Taha's clutches.

Yeah, it's a dumb action film with no character development and little to no plot, but it's a non-stop thrill ride that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. The stuntwork is fabulous, and anyone who enjoys Hong Kong styled martial arts sequences will be pleased. Both Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle are incredible athletes, and their movements are full of fluid grace. They are poetry in motion and truly delightful to behold. What Hollywood hasn't realized yet is that stuntmen are the true stars in action films, so if you cast physically capable people as your leads, you're going to get good stunts, and therefore get good action. Then you don't have to worry about faking out the audience with doubles, cutaways, and deceptive editing. The only criticism I would levy against the film is that sometimes the editing is a bit frantic, and a lot of the fighting shots are cut just a little too short. I kept feeling like I was being robbed of the victims' reactions for the sake of pacing. The acting is decent enough, but the prime emphasis of the film is on testosterone fueled male posturing, and there's certainly no shortage of that. Like many of Luc Besson's stories, "Banlieue 13" is completely free of female influence with the exception of Leito's adorable and feisty sister (beautiful Dany Verissimo). Fortunately, the misogynistic undercurrent that's been so prevalent in Besson's recent stories isn't present here, resulting in a refreshingly straight forward, balls-out piece of action delight.