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What an interesting career path Luc Besson has chosen. The French director was once heralded as bringing in the newest New Wave of French cinema with his stylish kinetic action masterpieces, 1990’s La Femme Nikita and 1994’s Léon {AKA: The Professional}. Even campy, nonsensical fare like 1997’s the Fifth Element were crowd pleasers due to Besson’s unrelenting sense of style and love of a good fight sequence.  Besson has made it clear he’s happiest behind the scenes writing and producing the types of films he would like to see.  In this spirit came popcorn epics like The Transporter series, Jet Li’s Kiss of the Dragon {2001} and Danny the Dog {2005} and his foray into the world of parkour, 2004’s District 13.  The latter of these he enjoyed so much that he made a sequel, District 13: Ultimatum.

In the future, the slums of Paris will be really bad.  So bad in fact, that they will be sectioned off and quarantined so as not to infect the rest of the France with their inhabitants’ poverty or criminal enterprise.  One such district is number 13; a hive of subjugation and villainy.  Gangs of Muslims, Africans, Asians, Skinheads and other weapon-toting vice, rule the daily goings-on inside the ghetto, each one sectioning off their own little corner of the world.  The area has become a blot on the rest of society, one that some factions of the government will do anything to remove even if it means stretching the French constitution a little; after all, who’ll notice if a few thousand of the lowest of the low go missing?  Well, this flies in the face of humanity and the ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité that is the cornerstone of French justice.  Also, a lot of people live in District 13 might not want their houses blown up.  So against these forces of exterminating evil leap Captain Damien Tomaso and D13 urchin Leito, unlikely friends since the previous threat to D13 a few years back.  It is with justice and right on their side that the two will unite the gangland of District 13 to rise up against the government threat saving not only the slum, but also save the constitution of France from being overtaken by shadowy and illegal masters for fun and profit.

Despite beginning exactly where the original film ended, everything in District 13: Ultimatum is turned a full notch lower than its eye-popping predecessor.  Most grievously, there are less of the high flying leaps and jumps that make parkour, or free-running such a stunning thing to watch and is the heart of the film. This is mostly because there’s less involvement with Leito, played by parkour founder David Belle.  Most of the concentration of the action focuses on Cyril Raffaelli as Tomaso and his exemplary martial arts skills.  Sadly, these are overshadowed by some godawful camera angles and hyperactive edits.  Why does no one heed my keep-the-camera-still rants?  Maybe I should get them translated into French?  Much of the stuntwork appears to be done wire-free and the multiple shots of the same impossible manoeuvre shot form different angles seem to exist to attest to that.  The canned premise of the government not only reneging on their promise in the previous film to improve life for the D13 inhabitants, but now going as far as to obliterate them and make them the scapegoat for sneaky motives funded by the “Harriburton” military defense firm (Très subtile, n'est-il pas?), isn’t particularly original.  Now the fight for survival becomes a fight for all of France and who cares?  In the end, even the gang leaders want their respective slummy headquarters blown up, which negates the entire argument against the alleged bad guys.  Note to the filmmakers; I don’t know what bet he lost but I never, ever want to see Cyril Raffaelli in drag again wearing a miniskirt revealing full butt cleavage.  This horror occurs in an early sequence that goes on way too long and reveals the problems with the script that requires this repetitive (- and nasty) filler.

We also briefly meet the local gang leaders, particularly the fetching Elodie Yung as Tao, the Asian mob boss whose martial arts skills and long, lethal plait were clearly honed at the Temple of Angela Mao.  I would have been thrilled to see more of her and more of the skills of the others that make them supposedly so scary, but they are brought out in the last twenty minutes of the film and, like everything else here, remain underdeveloped.

Still, for mindless popcorn-chomping fun it’s hard to beat guys flipping vertically from one high-rise patio to another and the challenges to gravity David Belle is known for.  The pity is that there’s just not enough of it and the breakneck pacing of the original film is just not here.  Enjoyable enough to watch on the big screen, District 13: Ultimatum is still an auto-pilot shell of its sire.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb 5th, 2010




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