Real men do their own stunts

'District B13' shuns special effects for gravity-defying action sequences.

If movies were people, no one would accuse "District B13" of having much between the ears. On the other hand, it has a great deal going for it in the thighs, abdomen, and forearms.

Set in Paris in a lawless near-future where ghettoes are ruled by gangs, the film is a close cinematic approximation of a brutal action video game, and its lead actors do their own stunts.

Normally this would not be the sort of film I go for; a little of this stuff goes a long way with me. But "District B13," which was directed by Pierre Morel and produced by Luc Besson, moves like a shot, and its two stars, Cyril Raffaelli, who plays the "untouchable" cop Damien, and David Belle, who plays the ghetto renegade Leito, are marvels.

As a member of an elite police task force, Damien has been ordered to infiltrate District B13 and defuse the Weapon of Mass Destruction stolen by its most fearsome gang. Leito, whose sister has been kidnapped by the gang, reluctantly teams up with Damien even though he is more outlaw than crimebuster.

When these two join forces they resemble nothing so much as a turbocharged circus act. Their high-flying flips, tumbles, and pirouettes have a balletic grace, and their punches are as deftly lethal as any delivered by Jet Li. Both actors were previously best known as top stuntmen.

While most action movies rely increasingly on computer-generated images, or CGI, the Hong Kong martial-arts genre - which has greatly influenced the American action film - still gets a kick out of executing things unaided by a lot of camera trickery. This is one reason why Tom Cruise was singled out for doing many of his own stunts in "Mission: Impossible III." We didn't expect anything "real" from such a film, but at the same time we feel we are entitled to more than just computerized action heroes and stunt doubles.

The distinctive fighting style in "District B13" is called Parkour, and according to my press notes, it's a discipline "that embraces the art of moving ... over, under, through, or around an environmental object." That pretty much describes the nonstop trajectory of Damien and Leito. It may be subtitled, and the faces may be unfamiliar, but "District B13" is the best buddy action movie around. Grade: B+

Rated R for strong violence, some drug content and language.

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