District 13: UltimatumReviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 02/05/10 11:00:00
"District 13: Ultimatum," the sequel to 2004’s "District 13,' the futuristic action film that introduced parkour, the European sport that’s part martial art and part gymnastics (participants run up, down, and over obstacles, rather than around them), to American moviegoers. With David Belle, one of parkour’s founders, as a co-star, and another, Cyril Raffaelli, an expert martial artist, "District B-13" became a box-office hit in Europe and a modest one in the United States. A sequel was inevitable. What director Patrick Alessandrin ("Mala leche," "August 15th") and prolific writer-producer-director Luc Besson ("Angel-A," "Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," "The Fifth Element," "Leon: The Professional") delivered, however, was (and is) far less satisfying on a story level (unsurprisingly) and on an action level (surprisingly enough).District 13: Ultimatum revisits District B-13’s last scene as Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli), a captain in the Parisian police force, and the singularly named Leïto (David Belle), a one-time petty criminal turned action hero, exchange final pleasantries before they go their separate ways, Damien back to the Paris police and Leïto back to the segregated, walled area, the “B-13” of the title, where Paris’ multicultural underclass make their home. Damien repeats a line from the first film about French politicians making good on their promise to improve living conditions in District B-13, a promise Leïto doesn’t trust. He’s right, of course.
Post-opening credits, District 13: Ultimatum skips ahead three years. Nothing has changed for the residents of District B-13. Leïto has turned into a political agitator and rebel, planting small, generally ineffectual bombs, to bring down the wall surrounding District B-13. After participating in a major drug bust in Paris, Damien relaxes with his girlfriend, but he’s arrested the next morning for drug trafficking. Someone wants Damien taken out of the equation. That someone turns out to be Walter Gassman (Daniel Duval), the duplicitous head of France’s Secret Service (DISS). Gassman has the ear of the new, easily manipulated French president (Philippe Torreton). Gassman is also responsible for staging a police shooting that sets off a series of riots in District B-13.
Gassman’s goal, to destroy and then rebuild District B-13 is straight of Naomi Klein’s bestselling book, The Shock Doctrine. Along with several wealthy businessmen, Gassman hopes to profit from the destroy-then-build plan. Standing in his way, of course, are Damien and Leïto, but they’ve been separated by 50 minutes of running time (each following his own course) until Damien calls Leïto from prison for help. Leïto also turns to the ethnic gangs (Besson gets zero points for racial sensitivity) that run fiefdoms inside District B-13, Asians, Africans, Arabs, and Caucasians, most of them sporting tattoos and heavy firepower to protect their territory. Getting them to work together is one of District 13: Ultimatum’s “power-to-the-multicultural-people” message. It bears little or no relation to reality.A derivative, clichéd story, cribbed, once again, from John Carpenter’s "Escape From New York," sprinkled with elements drawn from "The Warriors" and "Strange Days" (Besson is nothing if not a shameless borrower of better films), isn’t, of course, what audiences care for, at least not initially. "District B-13" made an impact with audiences in Europe and elsewhere for its inventively staged fights and gravity-defining parkour scenes handled by Belle and Raffaelli personally (they also did their own choreography). "District 13: Ultimatum" delivers three action scenes, one each featuring Belle and Raffaelli, and a third that finally features both performers. The action scenes are still inventive, but relative to the story surrounding them, too few and far between. Hopefully that will change for the inevitable sequel necessary to round out a proper trilogy.
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