Saturday, March 13, 2010

Triskaidekaphilia: District 13

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

There's a sequel to this 2004 French action movie out now, although it isn't playing in Vegas and I kind of doubt it ever will. Still, this movie was a bit of a sensation when it came out, introducing both the weird street "sport" of parkour (which was later showcased in Casino Royale) and director Pierre Morel (who went on to helm Taken and From Paris With Love, and is heading up the new Dune remake) to Hollywood and the world at large, and was a notable success for visionary French filmmaker-turned-hack producer Luc Besson's action-movie factory.

And having seen From Paris With Love, I wonder what happened to the creative, energetic filmmaker who made this movie, because despite its faults, District 13 is a lot of fun. The plot (involving a crime kingpin threatening to set off a nuclear bomb) is completely nonsensical and stupid, and the movie drags whenever stars Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle aren't beating up bad guys or hopping and jumping around the urban landscape, but the action sequences are extremely entertaining and kinetic, and the visual style is inventive. The pacing is brisk enough that you never have too much time to think about the plot holes, and the clumsy social commentary and sappy messages only get overbearing toward the end.

The key here is keeping things simple, and maybe the problem with From Paris With Love is that Morel was stuck with John Travolta as his action star instead of these crazy parkour dudes, who are clearly action guys first and actors second. That's entirely appropriate for a movie like this, and with everyone heading toward the same goal, it works out pretty well.

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