A band of young thieves and members of an elite judicial escort become unlikely allies in slick Gallic actioner "The Nest." An exciting standoff in an industrial warehouse is at first exquisitely suspenseful, but the carnage-heavy venture sacrifices much of its intensity to mere firepower as the protagonists find themselves in ever more dire straits.

A band of young thieves and members of an elite judicial escort become unlikely allies in slick Gallic actioner “The Nest.” An exciting but punishing standoff in an industrial warehouse at night is at first exquisitely suspenseful, but the carnage-heavy venture sacrifices much of its intensity to mere firepower as the protagonists find themselves in ever more dire straits. Well-cast, and with shoot-’em-up set pieces lensed to Hollywood-caliber standards, pic has the visual muscle to travel but doesn’t live up to the promise of its opening reels.

Helmer/co-scripter Florent-Emilio Siri follows his keenly made debut, the 1998 coal mining-cum-white slavery drama “One Minute of Silence,” with this slice of almost unrelenting action. First half-hour, is gripping and elegantly choreographed. Opening images are of a nature docu on a TV set, showing the methodical cruelty with which a giant wasp bests a much bigger tarantula. (Pic’s original title translates as “Wasps’ Nest.”)

Starting at 6 p.m., 10 or so characters all crisply prepare for different missions on this Thursday, July 14 — Bastille Day — in and around Strasbourg. As a digital clock ticks away in a corner of the screen, and Alexandre Desplat’s score reinforces the mood of nervous expectation, it’s unclear which are the good guys and which are the bad guys.

Except, of course, for the star prisoner being flown in to stand trial at the European Court in Strasbourg. Albanian mobster Abedin Nexhep (Angelo Infanti) — who is unapologetic about kidnapping, torturing and branding innocent young girls destined for prostitution — is transported with security precautions worthy of Hannibal Lecter.

All the protective overkill is warranted: Nexhep’s well armed men intend to ambush the armored car and free him. The special forces detail of French, Germans and Italians escorting him is led by agent Helene Laborie (Nadia Fares, last seen flexing her muscles in “The Crimson Rivers”).

Oblivious to these goings-on, Nasser (Samy Naceri) and Santino (Benoit Magimel) head off for their own meticulously planned crime, with Selim (Sami Bouajila), tough tomboy Nadia (Anisia Uzeyman) and taciturn Martial (Martial Odone). Odone, a member of the roof-hopping urban acrobatic troupe that starred in last year’s “Yamakasi,” pulls off a very cool stunt on a construction crane, much like the Asian gymnast in the recent “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Louis (Pascal Greggory) is one of two nightwatchmen at the warehouse where the young crooks are headed. Their target is container-loads of laptop computers.

Nexhep’s henchmen stage a violent diversion to rescue their leader, but the rolling fortress containing him limps off down a side road and takes refuge at the warehouse. Nasser and his gang assume the police have caught them in the act — but the situation is infinitely worse. The young crooks and the elite soldiers will have to work together just to stay alive, as the Albanian mafiosi will stop at nothing to recover their leader.

Stunts, explosions and shoot-outs are executed with top-notch skill as pic takes on the dimensions of a Western, with a few brave settlers holed up in a deteriorating fort. Bastille Day fireworks mask the sound of all the fireplay in the isolated industrial park.

Unfortunately, the pic’s sense of timing, initially so tight and convincing, becomes almost random, dissipating into a plateau of perpetual crisis, a la “Black Hawk Down.” Dozens of men are shot down videogame style, which makes it difficult to care when Nasser is badly wounded.

While conscientious efforts have been made to give each protag human grounding, the viewer is given little reason to sympathize for the trapped characters. Pic’s sense of geography also suffers as the dwindling cast tries to stave off the implacable enemy.

For the record, the hybrid weaponry created for the movie — including a silencer-adapted Uzi with infrared and laser sights and a space-age rocket launcher — has reportedly drawn interest from real arms manufacturers. This has prompted their designer, Patrick Le Dissez, to apply for patents.

The Nest

France

Production

A Pathe Distribution release of a Cinemane Films, Carrere Group, Pathe Image Prod., France 2 Cinema, Embellie Prods., Pendrake Films production, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Patrick Gouyou Beauchamps, Claude Carriere. Directed by Florent-Emilio Siri. Screenplay, Siri, Jean-Francois Tarnowski.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Giovanni Fiore Coltellaci; editors, Olivier Gajan, Christophe Danilo; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Dominique Carrara; art director, Bertrand Seitz; costume designers, Marie Calvet, Brigitte Calvet; sound (Dolby), Daniel Ollivier, Eric Tisserand, Williams Schmit; sound designer, Germain Boulay; arms master, Patrick Le Dissez; associate producers, John David Cohen, Anne Regard, Francois Ivernel, Romain Le Grand, Leonard Glowinski; assistant directors, Pascal Salafa, Roxane Andreani; second unit director, Jerome Cornuau. Reviewed at Pathe screening room, Paris, Feb. 27, 2002. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Nasser - Samy Naceri Santino - Benoit Magimel Helene Laborie - Nadia Fares Louis - Pascal Greggory Selim - Sami Bouajila Nadia - Anisia Uzeyman Winifried - Richard Sammel Giovanni - Valerio Mastandrea Martial - Martial Odone Abedin Nexhep - Angelo Infanti
With: Martin Amic, Alexandre Hamidi, Grigori Manoukov. (French, Italian, English dialogue)

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