Banlieue 13 (or in English: District B13) is the living proof that foreign movies can be just as silly and cheap as your average Hollywood blockbuster. Too many times someone grumbles about how Americans make stupid movies, well, I’m here to tell you the French can be just as unresourceful.
Banlieue 13 is a movie for men … no doubt about it! And within that decision lies its weakest link.
The only woman who stars in this movie is beaten and humiliated by a group of testosteron beefcakes. Her only salvation lies in the hands of – yup, you guessed it! – two strapping young guys who have no problem whatsoever to take out their enemies with the greatest of ease.
The twosome are especially athletic built and have the charisma of a Cirque du Soleil-acrobat. They perform some of the most amazing jumps you’ll ever see on film, often done in real time (that means: no fake computer effects!) They leap like kangaroos from one roof of a building to another, occasionally ending with a dazzling somersault, all without breaking their ankles of course.
That by itself is a quite amazing feat, but unfortunately some other features are unrealistic and do more damage than good. The fact that both guys can outrun a car in a tiny alley. Or how they can fight without a single drop of sweat on their forehead against a small army of goons without – you guessed it! – ever getting hurt in the process, even if it means the bad guys fire +100.000 rounds at them!
It’s a pity that the only thing real is the actual jumping and running …
Despite some obvious fake features, it has to be said: the action sequences within this movie are fabulous. And as mentioned before, the stunts performed are enough to make Bruce Lee jealous! The very first chasing scene is so spectacular that it literally takes your breath away! It’s a perfect combination of humor and crazy stunts!
Actors Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle take on the main parts and even though there’s not much acting involved, they still show what they’re capable of in the department ‘stunts’. That’s right, they perform their own stunts and they do well!
So yes, the action in Banlieue 13 is some of the best you’ll see in recent years …
But – and this is a big but, like a J-Lo butt – the action is all Banlieue 13 has to offer! The story is a throwaway with hardly any or no substance whatsoever. In fact, the French themselves were quoted as saying: “L’histoire de ce film? C’est du caca!” (‘The story of this movie? It’s crappy!’)
This is a real shame, because even though the action sequences in this movie are nothing short of stellar, after an hour or so you are quite fed up with all of the fist fights and nervous jumping around like bunny rabbits. As a viewer, you want something else. Something new. Something other non-American movies like Ong-Bak or Lola rennt seem to have in abundance …
But the damage is done and the movie remains an empty package of far-out action scenes without a decent story or believable characters.
Additionally, the only two bad guys interesting enough to raise the bar of the movie slightly above average are the main villains. On one hand you have Bibi Naceri who steps into the shoes of crime king Taha Bemamud, the kind of bastard you like to see going down. He buys off corrupt cops without so much as raising an eyebrow and has a little room crammed with stupid, muscled henchmen, just in case he needs them when he is in danger.
His right hand man is played by Tony D’Amario who was born to play the role of the brainless thug. He is both a dangerous individual yet strangely funny when you realize he doesn’t know half the time what’s going on.
But that’s as far as Banlieue 13 goes! Everything else is just stuffing. Now you know why the movie only lasts 84 minutes …
Key players Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle would benefit greatly from the success of this French film.
Whilst Cyril Raffaelli came crawling back to the big screen three years later, only this time as some sort of a super-athletic villain in Die Hard 4, David Belle would make things easier for himself and repeat the same role in the American remake Brick mansions by the side of the late Paul Walker.
Even Luc Besson – perhaps the most famous of all Frenchmen in Hollywood – would once again serve as the producer of the American version. You might remember him from such movies directed as Léon and The fifth element as well as being the driving engine behind the Taxi– and The transporter-movies!
did you know?
Everything you see on screen are real stunts performed by actors David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli. There weren’t any special effects (wirework, computer graphics) used in 90% of the Parkour scenes.
Give it to me straight:
Banlieue 13 is a classy and hugely spectacular action movie, but seems to be made mainly for men!
The story is spectacularly simple, mostly featuring a whole bunch of empty-headed bulky blokes with big guns who serve their purpose as one-dimensional bad guys, but nothing more. There is but one woman in this movie and she’s viciously humiliated, only to be rescued by two strapping young lads who heroically never get hurt, regardless of how many opponents they oppose or how many bullets they must dodge.
Producer Luc Besson doesn’t seem to mind and shoots the movie in a beautiful frame, but that’s as far as the movies goes in terms of valor. The storyline is as thin as a piece of toilet paper and decent acting performances are few and far between. Main players Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle deserve a BIG applause, because between them they raise the movie’s quality with their amazing stunts, most of which they performed themselves!
Especially David Belle is truly a gem to look at …
All in all a fine attempt for an action movie, but perhaps the American remake with Paul Walker will reach a bigger audience …