J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

6-Shooter: District 13: Ultimatum

Belittle the French all you like, but they can lay claim to an original martial arts style. Largely popularized by actor-stuntman David Belle, Parkour more of less began in France as a form of urban cross-training using the cityscape as an obstacle course. Adding the kicking and fighting was a logical progression that produced the international breakout hit District B13. Belle now returns as the urban warrior Leito in Patrick Alessandrin’s District 13: Ultimatum (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

District 13 (evidently the “B” has been dropped) is an inner city slum so dangerous the government has walled it off from the rest of Paris. In the first film, conditions there had degenerated to such an extent the government devised a secret plan to blow up the district. However, Leito, B13’s resident vigilante-community organizer, and Damien Tomasso, the last remaining idealist on Parisian police force, teamed up to foil the plot. Briefly, things improved, but as Ultimatum opens, conditions have again degenerated to such an extent, the government hatches another secret plan to blow up the district.

Yes, Ultimatum is basically more of the same, but so what? This is not the sort of movie to get hung up on plot development. When Leito and Tomasso are jumping and kicking and driving cars into government office buildings, Ultimatum is a lot of good, clean fun. Regrettably, Ultimatum occasionally finds it necessary to bring the action to a screeching halt to make awkward political statements, like the recurring Haliburton references that are eye rollingly lame.

Ultimatum’s Kumbaya moment when all of District 13’s ethnic gangs, including the white power skinheads, join forces to save the neighborhood, also stretch the generous allowances afforded to action films. (And who knew all French Neo-Nazis really wanted was more social welfare spending for the inner cities?) Fortunately, Leito and Tomasso recruit one cool new ally: Tao, the leader of the Chinese gang who fights with a razor attached to her ponytail. She can stay for the third film.

As Leito and Tomasso, Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, make quite credible action leads. They have a good physical presence and display some nice screen chemistry together. They can definitely jump, kick, tumble, and fall, as well. Likewise, Elodie Yung’s Tao has the right moves and the perfect sneer for a legit action femme fatale. Refreshingly, Philippe Torreton also brings some dignity and gravitas to proceedings, portraying the French President as a decent person, rather than a bumbler or a knave.

Replacing Pierre Morel in the director’s chair, Alessandrin never matches the frenetic pace of the first film (or at least its first twenty minutes), but he still keeps the parkour coming fast and furious. Released as part of Magnet’s 6-Shooter series of international genre films, Ultimatum delivers plenty of well choreographed stunts and fight sequences that should certainly satisfy fans. It opens Friday (2/5) in New York at the Village East.

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