(French and Arabic dialogue)
Snappy plotting and heartfelt perfs by two youngsters make “Killer Kid” an involving account of an improbable friendship between two 11-year-old Arab youths. One, trained in Lebanon to be an efficient killer, will take the other, the plucky France-raised son of immigrants, as a role model in Paris before carrying out a deadly mission. Pace never flags in this widescreen adventure that won the Jury Prize and Grand Prix du Public at the 1994 Cannes Junior sidebar.
First fiction outing from Emmy-winning documaker Gilles de Maistre, whose prior pix covered child soldiers and child labor exploitation, is set in 1986, when a wave of terrorist bombings rocked Paris.
Through a series of no-nonsense training exercises in a secret guerrilla camp in Lebanon, stern Laid (Teufik Jallab) is indoctrinated into being a calculating and unfeeling assassin, bent on waging holy war. His levelheadedness and soldierly devotion get him chosen for a vital mission in Paris. But to blend in, Laid — who speaks fluent if somewhat formal French — needs to study the behavior of a typical French kid.
Karim (Younesse Boudache), raised in the immigrant-heavy projects outside Paris, is an irreverent, fun-loving boy who skateboards, break dances, listens to rap, plays videogames and has a soft spot for a pretty 16-year-old junkie. A terrorist unit commanded by Hans (Marc de Jonge) forces Karim’s dad to “loan him out.”
Tight-lipped Laid, who gets up at 6 a.m. to pray, at first baffles Karim, whose infectious enthusiasm gives him a glimpse of the childhood he never had. The two boys form a friendship pact that will alter the course of French history when an assassination plot backfires in an unlikely but interesting way.
As junior gunman Laid, Jallab has the cold posture and undercurrent of distress befitting his role. Peppy Boudache, as Karim, speaks exclusively in punchy hipster slang.
Non-political pic, in which fanaticism is vividly evoked, is a harsh but engaging introduction to child exploitation.
Lensing has a restless documentary feel that propels the narrative. Score has sinister verve.