David Belle (left) and Cyril Raffaelli are tuff
District 13: Ultimatum
Directed by Patrick Alessandrin
Starring David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, Philippe Torreton and Daniel Duval
Opens Friday, Feb. 12, at Pacific Gaslamp
Goes well with: District 13, Casino Royale, Taken
The original District 13 made a splash when it came out in 2004. Directed by Taken helmer Pierre Morel and written and produced by French action magnate Luc Besson, it was set in 2010 and delivered an extreme look at the social issues France was facing at the time. Sure, it was an extreme action film, but it offered parables for the riots in the city's degenerating immigrant communities.
District 13 was a walled-off ghetto the government had given up on, and it had devolved into an almost feudal system, with drug-dealing warlords controlling different high-rise projects. Leito (David Belle) was one of the few who stood up to them, a slum dweller dedicated to destroying the drugs in his community, forced to team up with undercover cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) after his sister was kidnapped by D13's biggest bad guy.
What the film is remembered for isn't the awesome fights or funky editing but, rather, the way it introduced the world to parkour, the urban free-running acrobatics that would later gain serious attention when used in the opening of the James Bond reboot Casino Royale. Belle's tattooed, wise-cracking, outside-the-law Leito was the perfect buddy to Raffaelli's straight-laced Damien. The latter, a former stunt man and martial artist, would beat up anyone who got in his way, while the former would duck, dodge and weave around the bad guys until they ran into something hard, headfirst.
It's a fun, somewhat-slight movie, despite its social commentary, and a sequel hardly seemed necessary. But Besson wisely ups the ante the second time around and once again creates a vibrant, tattooed take on today's global problems.
As we all learned during the Bush administration, the only thing worse than well-armed criminals are corrupt government officials who are perfectly happy to sell out and screw over the lower and middle classes to enrich themselves and their corporate homies. So instead of facing off against chiseled hoodlums a second time, Leito and Damien go up against the black-clad storm-troopers who take their orders from Walter Gassman (Daniel Duval), head of the Department of State Security.
Here's the scheme: Frame the dealers still operating out of D13, have the army destroy their high-rises, allow a mega-corp to get the clean-up contracts in the aftermath and collect hefty suitcases full of cash. Don't worry—those aren't spoilers. Once we're reintroduced to our heroes, it's made quite clear who's doing what and why. District 13: Ultimatum has all the subtlety of a nail gun. Hell, the corporation paying off the corrupt politicos is called Harriburton.
Does that sound ridiculous? Well, it is, but Ultimatum essentially works because it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. Sure, collectively, we're far more pissed off at corrupt rich people than we are at ethnic groups we see as skirting the law to get ahead. But Ultimatum is still all about parkour and hand-to-hand combat.
So, once the bad guys have prompted the French president (Philippe Torreton, who looks more than a little like Nicolas Sarkozy) to take action against what he considers to be a rogue district, the only chance Leito and Damien have to stop them is by putting together a coalition of the willing gangsters. This is a group that consists of black drug dealers, angry Arabs, inked Asians, greasy Europeans and head-butting skinheads, who come together in an orgy of corrupt youth culture, just aching to kick some serious middle-aged white-guy ass. They may not have weapons or numbers on their side, but they're excessively cooler than their counterparts, who seem to think that black body armor is going to be enough against the kind of hipster criminal who plugs in earbuds before duking it out.
It's that kind of movie—it gets by on being kind of awesome instead of trying to be important. Early on, Damien has to protect a stolen Van Gogh from a bunch of thugs. It's priceless, and he uses it to give them a good thrashing. End result? Thugs down, painting unscathed, suspension of disbelief confirmed.
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