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District 13: Ultimatum

©2010, Magnet Releasing

David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli in DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Heavily computer-generated tracking shots race us through the slums of Paris—dregs of society. Leïto (David Belle), a recovering thug, reunites with Capt. Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli), the protagonist from this film’s 2004 predecessor, written and produced by Luc Besson. Instead of defusing a neutron bomb, an entirely plausible scenario for an officer and a hoodlum, Tomasso inflitrates a gang engaged in the drug trade—in full drag. Suffice it to say, he does a nice job of walking in heels.

The lengthy, opening sequence serves little purpose to the main story, other than to showcase Tomasso’s skills, as he hacks, kicks and chops his way through a video game-style set of opponents who only think to approach him one after another, instead of a concerted effort.

The central narrative concerns the decay of District 13 and its rule by five gangs, which the city’s law enforcement wants to eradicate. Damien, of course, is the responsible cop, good to his woman, devoted to his job and the principles of law enforcement. Naturally, he’s the most obvious candidate for a set-up.

After the initial action sequence, officers are called to District 7 to dispatch some youths loitering in a parking lot at night. The girls are sent away by Special Services agents. Their boyfriends watch from afar as the agents assassinate the local police. The tape eventually finds its way into Leïto’s hands.

“Cops smoking other cops. This is the bomb!” says one. “Yeah but before we set it off, let’s get the official version,” replies another. This is largely the film’s calibre of dialogue, which seems a little forced and disingenuous. Or maybe it drags down the French language, too elegant to be employed for such slang. Adding insult to injury in this market-oriented picture is the agency itself Potting to demolish the slums and their inhabitants, the fictional agency is ineptly named the Dept. of Intelligence Secret Services—DISS.

While American action films generally revolve around terrorism, extortion, torts and crimes, the French have been historically preoccupied with utilizing the genre for sociopolitical statements. In this case, the parallel may of course be the globally-reviled Bush administration—right down to an obligatory Halliburton-esque contractor hired to deal with the cleanup. The tradition of French action with a political bent traces its inspiration back to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, which gave us the language for categorical rejection of established rules in conventional society. Here, as in District B13, the chase is taken to dizzying proportion with the street sport known as Parkour, developed by Mr. Belle. Parkour, or l’art du déplacement (the art of moving), seems more or less the art of running away from the police—creatively.

Mr. Belle, with his Backstreet Boy coif and goatee, and Mr. Raffaelli, a poor man’s Vincent Cassel, provide a basic action plot whereby the lower-class denizens resist the powers that be—the five gangs set aside their differences to combat the big, bad bureaucrat, Walter Gassman (Daniel Duval)—head DISS’er. The plot and characters aren’t an improvement over the standard formula for youthful rebellion against the system, a system… any system.

While the physical agility of Parkour is amazing, and fight sequences are energetic, well-choreographed—in one case Tomasso maneuvers a Van Gogh over, under and around an attacker to avoid destroying it—it’s much the same acrobatics in any Jackie Chan flick. The sum of the parts isn’t more, or less, than the whole. We know immediately who the villains are, what their motive is, and who will prevail. The chief motivation for watching this film is to see people bouncing off walls. That being the case, you could just as easily watch neighborhood kids on a sugar rush.

District 13: Ultimatum • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 • Running Time: 101 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for some violence, language and drug material. • Distributed by Overture Films

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