A film review by Craig J. Koban May 11, 2010
DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM
2010, R, 100 mins.
2010, R, 100 mins.
Damien: Cyril Raffaelli / Leito: David Belle / President: Philippe
Torreton / Gassman: Daniel Duval / Tao: Elodie Yung
In French with English subtitles
There is an action sequence during DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM that is so utterly preposterous, but brazenly creative that it has to be seen to be believed.
Undercover cop Damien Tomaso
(Cyril Raffaelli) is surrounded by armed goons that are just itching to
kill him in the most fiendish manner possible.
He looks around briefly and then sees – wouldn’t you know it
– a priceless Van Gogh painting.
Now, you would expect that the precious work of art would be
reduced to fireplace kindling if it were to be used both as a weapon and
shield, but the manner that Damien dexterously uses it to
disarm and subdue his attackers will maintaining its pristine condition is
kind of astounding.
It is that sly level of reckless and
spontaneous cleverness that separates DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM and its
prequel, 2006’s DISTRICT B13 from
other lame and disposable action vehicles.
You may recall the first film – which was directed by TAKEN
helmer Pierre Morel and written by Luc Besson – takes place in the
not-too-distant future of Paris where its ghettos have been segregated
from the rest of society by a large, Berlin Wall-esque structure.
The rest of the basic storyline line was essentially pure filler
for the film’s breakneck and implausibly entertaining stunts and action
sequences, which featured two young French actors that, yes, I
believed in my review deserved worthy comparisons to a young Jackie Chan.
The dynamic, gravity-defying duo from DISTRICT 13 was Raffaelli and
David Belle: the former demonstrated a kick-ass and empowered grasp
of the martial arts and the latter was a student of acrobatic
leaping and evasive tactics.
I barely recall in any discernable
details what that first film was really about: It contained dialogue as
laughable and regurgitated as it gets, character development that was
borderline comatose, and a narrative involving police versus ruthless
gangs that I've seen too many times to count.
But, by God, the simple pleasure of watching Raffaelli and Belle
use their limitless speed, nimbleness, and complete disregard for their
own apparent safety was the only reason to engage in the movie.
They took what was fundamentally a B-grade exploitation film and
instead infused in it a real sense of adrenaline-induced dynamism: The
manner that the pair hurtled themselves head first into one scene after
another of slickly choreographed mayhem and carnage was inspired, not to mention
that it left you fairly stunned and amazed.
Both are back doing much of the same
in the sequel, which furthers their exploits in yet another throwaway and
undistinguished storyline, but…ah…who cares…because the real point
here again is to see Raffaelli and Belle leap, summersault, twist, climb,
fall, swing, punch and kick their way through one ridiculously energetic
and creative action scene after the other.
Once again, I found myself marveling in a state of childlike glee
at these two superhumanly flexible and agile performers and was reminded
of something that I wrote regarding my feelings about the
first film: “Certain films do not necessarily have to be intelligent in
order for them to be highly entertaining.” That is perhaps the finest
compliment I could bestow upon ULTIMATUM: the sheer enjoyment of engaging
in the kinetic and innovative action scenes and watching Raffaelli and
Belle put their bodies on the line for the sake of showmanship is the
pulse of the film.
Three years have passed since the
first DISTRICT 13: It is now Paris of 2013 and after Captain Damien and Leito (Belle)
saved the district from government annihilation they are once gain faced
with fighting unscrupulous political forces that wish to slash and burn
the ghetto for their own twisted needs.
The district itself is still deeply secluded from the rest of Paris
and is still run by varying warring gangs, so not much in essence has
changed. Tensions, however,
are at an all-time high, especially after one powerful gang leader, Taha
Bemamud (Bibi Naceri) is killed, which now leaves the five remaining gangs
all vying for control over the warring district.
Things start to get really tense for
Damien, who – after a successful mission against a district drug lord -
discovers that he has been ruthlessly framed at home with three kilograms
of heroine planted by the police and, as a result, he has been arrested.
To make matters worse, a vile and duplicitous security agent named
Roland (Pierre-Marie Mosconi) has conspired and directly killed two police
officers in their cars and then has dumped their corpses in the 13th
District to pin blame on the gangs in hopes of eliciting a civil war.
By doing this, the Department of Internal State Security plans to
hatch out a scheme that will level the district in order to rebuild it using
corporate backers (money grabbing corporations, as of late, have replaced
Nazis as the most political correct villains of the movies as of late). This, of
course, will not do for Captain Damien, so he contacts his friend Leito to
assist him with breaking out of jail so that they can both secretly
re-enter the district, make peace with all of the rival gangs, and reveal
the insidious plot of the government before it’s too late.
ULTIMATUM was directed by Patrick
Alessandrin (replacing Morel) from a script by Besson and the one thing
the pair acknowledge right from the get-go is that viewers will care less
for the story (which, to be fair, is essentially a rehash of the first
film) and more for the bone crushing fight scenes and the sustained
“Parkour” chase sequences (a term in English that means “the art of
displacement” and involves overcoming any obstacle in one’s path by
adapting oneself to the environment on the fly; Belle is a practitioner in
real life). What occurs
on screen has the simultaneous sensation of lightning fast spontaneity and
delicately precise choreography, and it is that odd fusion that always
makes the action so fever pitched and energetic.
Thankfully, ULTIMATUM does not welch on its intended promises for jaw-dropping action: I loved the spirited innovation of the aforementioned sequence involving the Van Gogh painting, but I also appreciated an expended battle between Damien and a slew of drug dealing criminals in a club. Then there are moments that are almost disbelievingly exhilarating, like a scene where Damien lunges through a very tight open window in a sports car without making any contact on the vehicle, not to mention a potentially fatal roof dive by Belle; regardless of whether wires or effects tinkering had a place, that jump is still a pulse pounding rush. More wicked ingenuity abounds in other scenes, like when rudimentary items like step ladders and police security tape are used as lethal weapons. Hell, even a ponytail at one point (courtesy of a principle female gang leader, played by Elodie Yung) is used to slice enemies into Swiss cheese. Perhaps the most incredulously inspired moment occurs when Damien and Lieto escape from police in a mini-car during which they take a turn down a dead end alley and then - presto! – they manage to magically find a perfectly and conveniently located ramp up to the window of an adjacent window to secure their escape. Nice.
Not all of ULTIMATUM is goofy and
unpretentious fun: The dialogue (in
French with English subtitles) is as ham-invested
as ever, but thankfully characters don't speak with too much frequency.
The premise of the government conspiring to demolish the district
seems almost plagiarized from the first, but this time the politicizing in
the script reaches unintentionally laughable levels.
The government wants to destroy parts of the district and then
remake it as they see fit under the helping hand of "Harriburton", which
sounds inanely a lot like Halliburton, whose ties to the Bush White House
are well known. When one of
the heroes discovers this plot, he looks at his partner and hilariously
deadpans, “Just like in Iraq!” Would-be thoughtful social commentary has no business
here, especially when it's hammered home in insipid lines of throwaway dialogue.
Nonetheless, DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM is another reliably silly, but improbably enjoyable bit of Euro-trash action from the mind of Luc Besson, the provocateur as of late of easily digestible and unhealthy fast food “Cinema of Incredulity", a genre where hyper stylized action and intrigue takes prominence over all known laws of physics. As with all of Besson’s films in this genre (like the TRANSPORTER trilogy and the very recent FROM PARIS WITH LOVE), you will experience the film shaking your head at all of the insane sights, only to leave the theatre with a sly smile of sick reverence on your face for all of the reality-defying mayhem you’ve just witnessed. ULTIMATUM is most assuredly detrimental junk food cinema for the mind, but sometimes nothing goes down better than a good "Big Mac" action thriller.
Wait tick...this is a French film...maybe I should have said "Royale with Cheese.".