The year is 2010 and the city of Paris has undergone a few changes. The most noticeable is that certain destitute areas have been cordoned off by large walls to contain their soaring crime rates, and left to their own devices these districts have sunk into gang related violence and extensive drug use. One such area is District 13, but there's one tower block that remains immune to the crime outside because it is looked after by Leito (David Belle) who ensures that the drugs and violence stay outside. Unfortunately, today his luck has run out and a group of thugs led by K2 (Tony D'Amario) arrive and break their way in, but the gang's drugs that Leito possesses are being hurriedly flushed down the plughole of the bathtub, and he has his own escape route carefully planned...
The French acrobatic exercise known as Parkour, where the participants fling themselves around the outside of buildings, over roofs and railings and generally all over the urban landscape, was turned into a film with Banlieue 13, or District 13 to translate, and who do you think was the producer and co-writer (with actor Bibi Naceri)? Go on, it's French, take a guess. That's right, our old friend Luc Besson, who seemed to produce just about every action movie made in France at the time. There's one drawback to fans of the sport, it must be said, and that is that there's not a tremendous amount of it featured here.
This film is pretty short, and is one of those which could do with being longer to fit in more of the activity it purports to highlight. Leito makes his escape in spectacular style, leaping and swinging and soaring (Belle was a past master at this, and it shows) away from the bad guys who manage to follow only up to a point, that point being a particularly wide gap that Leito makes but they have second thoughts about attempting. All well and good, but after that you'll have a wait until the next display; meanwhile, gangland boss Taha (Naceri) kidnaps Leito's sister Lola (Dany Verissimo) in revenge and our hero ends up arrested by the cops with Lola given up to Taha as part of a deal.
Then it seems as if you've started watching another film because a new story commences, that of an undercover cop, Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) who has infiltrated another gang somewhere across the city. He is offered his own action sequence when his cover is blown and he has to leave the premises before the hoodlums reach him so he can get to his fellow officers outside the den, something which he carries off with aplomb (nice one, Cyril). Once that adventure is over and the bad guys are captured or disposed of, he is almost immediately given a new mission: there is a new type of devastating bomb, a "clean" bomb which has no fallout, and one has been stolen by Taha in District 13. It has less than twenty four hours to go before it explodes - can Damien stop it in time?
As he isn't familiar with the area, Damien is set up with an unwitting partner in the shape of Leito, and an escape from a prison van is staged to fool Leito into teaming up with the cop. Refreshingly, after they have broken into the district, Leito sees right through the subterfuge and only agrees to go along with him so they can save Lola - oh, and the two million other residents as well. There's a social conscience to the proceedings that says that even the most desperate members of society don't deserve to have their lives ended by a traumatic event, and this lends a little depth beyond the traditional fights and explosions, but that's what you'll be watching for. It's better plotted than most action movies, and the Parkour is a lot of fun to watch, so District 13 gets by on novelty alone, backed up with genuine tension. Music by Da Octopuss.