(2004) dir. Pierre Morel
Luc Besson, what happened to you? Okay, I think I can guess at that one. After making several interesting and fun action films with some real character, namely La Femme Nikita (1990), The Professional (1994), and one of my personal guilty pleasures The Fifth Element (1997), he had the misfortune of making The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) with his then wife Milla Jovovich (one of the worst actresses in the world) whose cuteness peaked in The Fifth Element and quickly evaporated. The Messenger was a critical and commercial bomb and I can tell you that it may be one of the worst films of the 1990’s. And then, he stopped making films and spent most of the past few years either writing or producing stuff. Few of which I have seen, save The Transporter (2002), which seems to have been somewhat of a template for this film and which is unsurprisingly directed by Pierre Morel, the cinematographer of The Transporter.
The film features slick action with a particularly athletic David Belle as the kid from the barrio who is fighting the criminals. The idea is kind of a contemporary and less over-the-top version of Escape From New York (1981) in which the bad parts of a major city are walled off, keeping only the criminal element in and essentially withdrawing all city support services and allowing criminality, ruthlessness, and anarchy to reign.
This film is set in the near future (a future soon to be passed, 2010) and is poised as a simple social criticism. The barrios that are sequestered are full of immigrants and people “of color”. The story (sorry to ruin it for you) is basically is about a neutron bomb type of device sent into the barrio by the French government to essentially eliminate the entire district. A cop is duped to go in to trigger it and pal up with the criminalized Belle. They should have thrown in the Dead Kennedy’s “Kill the Poor” somewhere on the soundtrack…it’s essentially the same idea.
It’s a buddy picture, with slick fighting and action sequences that are devoid of digital effects. The action is based on physical stunts, like Jackie Chan is famous for (though nowhere as adventurous). The style of the physical stunts and fighting is called Parkour, a mixture of some Asian martial arts with running. The best stunts are Belle jumping through little windows and hopping from building to building or simply climbing up walls with faster than probably most people can even move on regular ground. Belle is pretty much the best thing in the film.
The rest of the story is hokey x 1000. In some ways, it almost reckons the vacuousness of mid-1980’s action films in terms of its narrative and characterization. The only thing that modernizes it and elevates it is the slick action and the execution of those scenes. Too bad.