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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: February 3, 2010 08:16 AM

HuffPost Review: District 13 - Ultimatum

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There aren't many films that move the needle in terms of offering a new style of action, but the film released in America in 2006 as District B13 (it was released in France as Banlieue 13 in 2004) did it.

It was one of the first to use that blend of gymnastics and urban mountaineering known as parkour. It even starred David Belle, the intrepid acrobat who created the form, which is essentially a way to traverse the urban landscape without pausing for obstacles, whether it's jumping from roof to roof or vaulting over walls or through windows.

In terms of film action, it was the most excitingly kinetic advance since Hollywood picked up on what became known as Hong Kong-style action -- essentially, the form perfected by Yuen Woo-Ping, who brought it to Hollywood in The Matrix and Kill Bill.

District B13 posited a vision of a future Paris not that far removed from the Manhattan imagined in John Carpenter's Escape from New York -- a city in which the area with the worst criminal elements was simply walled off from the rest of the population and allowed to function as a kind of Darwinian underworld. But even among the criminals, there were still heroic types like Leito (Belle), who fought the unsavory elements and tried to maintain a semblance of civilization.

District 13 - Ultimatum, the second film of the week from the fevered brain of French action auteur Luc Besson (though it was directed by Patrick Alessandrin), essentially tells the same story again, as sequels often do. As in the first film, Leito teams up with the lone-wolf cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), similarly skilled in both parkour and martial arts. They're up against a corrupt police establishment, which is manipulating the president of the country to essentially flatten the housing projects in District 13 so that rapacious developers can move in.

The plot revolves around a special-ops task force, which kills a couple of cops, then uses manipulated surveillance video to pin the murders on gangs in District 13. But a teen-ager surreptitiously has filmed the actual killings -- and so the race is on between Leito and Damien and the bad cops to gain possession of the damaging evidence.

While this sequel includes a couple of fight scenes and chases that have the same breath-taking originality of the original film, it lacks that film's element of surprise. Belle is still an astonishing athlete, making the most daring bits of action look casually tossed off. And Raffaelli, with his elongated face and expressive eyes, still makes his fight scenes thrilling.

But this time around, the plot doesn't have the kind of organic complexity, the sense that one thing naturally leads to another, as in the first film. Instead, obstacles seem carefully constructed for Leito and Damien to overcome which, of course, they do. And the ending is flat and contrived, depressingly tension-free.

I suppose that, if you haven't seen District B13, this sequel will amuse and excite. But your time is better spent tracking down a DVD of the original, which was a highlight of a rapidly deteriorating genre.

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