District 13: Ultimatum

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/26/10 00:00:00

"Parkour Louis Can't Lose"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The films of Luc Besson, both the ones that he personally directs and the ones that he merely writes and/or produces, are so jam-packed with action, humor and French-style weirdness that by the time they finally conclude, the audiences are often as breathless and excited as the people on the screen. The only trouble is that they often burn through their ideas so quickly that they often barely have enough material remaining to make it to the end credits, let alone supply the building blocks for a sequel. In the case of “District 13: Ultimatum,” the sequel to the worldwide cult favorite “District B-13,” Besson has pretty much copped to this by presenting us with a film that is essentially a remake of the original instead of a continuation. And yet, while he is admittedly serving up leftovers this time around, he offers them up with enough style and spice to turn what could have been a plateful of sloppy seconds into a meal almost as tasty as the original.

If you will recall, the original film was an “Escape from New York” knock-off set in a walled-off French neighborhood in which all the criminals and underclass were sequestered and featured good cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) and decent-hearted resident Leito (David Belle) joining forces in a race against time to prevent the leader of the local criminal underworld from launching a nuclear weapon into the heart of Paris, mostly through the judicious use of parkour, a martial art that finds its practitioners literally climbing up walls and fearlessly hurling themselves out windows and down staircases. At the end, our heroes were promised that things would change for the better in District 13 but as the film picks up three years later, not only have things not changed, the loss of the man in charge means that the five major gangs in the area each control certain portions and are constantly fighting for more control. In response, they keep on doing what they do best--Damien decimates entire drug armies single-handedly during undercover busts, even when dressed in drag, and Leito keeps fighting the good fight from within the walls of District 13.

What they don’t realize is that the head of a private security firm employed by the government to help keep the peace has a diabolical plot in store--his men will kill a few real cops and release a video that makes it seem as if it was the work of locals, the ensuing riots will convince the well-meaning President to raze the entire area (and anyone left inside) with missiles and the sinister Harriburton corporation that he is in cahoots with will get the enormously lucrative job of rebuilding the area. Unfortunately for him, some teens inadvertently videotape the real murders and when it falls into the possession of Damien and Leito, they must once again race against time to unite the various gang leaders to fight for their neighborhood and get the tape and a hard drive full of incriminating evidence to the president before the missiles can be launched.

. Of course, in a film like “District 13: Ultimatum,” the plot is by far the least important part of the equation. No, people go to a movie like this for the Good Parts, the fight sequences in which the screen bursts into ballets of brutality in which people hurtle themselves across the screen and out the occasional window in complete defiance of the laws of gravity without so much as a sprained ankle for their troubles. (This is the kind of film where when the bad guy wants to know how the good guy escaped, the response is “He’s extremely agile.”) In essence, the film is just one long string of Good Parts--both extended and exquisitely choreographed set-pieces and offhand little bits that are over and done so quickly that you almost don’t register them at first--connected by only the flimsiest of narrative tissue. Of course, watching how these Good Parts unfold in unexpected ways is part of the fun of this film and so I will only mention two of them. Early on, Damien finds himself doing simultaneous battle with numerous members of a drug gang with no weapons at his disposal other than his parkour abilities and a priceless Van Gogh painting that cannot be damaged under any circumstances. Towards the end, we are treated to another sequence in which one person takes on a group of bad guys single-handedly and quickly decimates them. The difference this time is that our hero is a sexy Asian babe wearing little more than a bustier and an iPod--by the end of the scene, all of the bad guys have been knocked unconscious but if you look closely at the end of the screen, I think you can actually see the smiles on their faces.

“District 13: Ultimatum” is not a great movie by any sane critical standards--you shouldn’t go out of your way to try to see it if you haven’t yet gotten around to seeing the likes of “Shutter Island” or “The Ghost Writer” and director Patrick Alessandrin doesn’t quite bring the same snap to the material that Pierre Morel did with the original. However, the film is an enormous amount of fun and it provides everything that one could possibly want in a piece of straightforward cinematic eye candy--big guns, goofy humor, beautiful women, brave heroes, nasty villains and physical derring-do of such a wildly exuberant nature that many viewers may find themselves trying to imitate many of the same moves while walking through the parking garage to their cars. Of course, when it comes to the latter, those with weaker ankles need not apply.

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