District 13 Ultimatum

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 2, 2010

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Yank audiences were rightfully agog when Casino Royale introduced them to parkour, the French “physical discipline” that entails sprinting dudes not letting objects like poles or doorways or buildings slow them down. True action nerds, of course, had already marveled over District 13, parkour’s splashy film debut.

Improbably, this kinetic piece of action wasn’t content to merely premiere a whole new kind of ass-kickery. Written and produced by French mega-filmmaker Luc Besson, it offered social commentary as blisteringly cynical as its parkour scenes were exciting, depicting a near-future in which Parisian officials have walled off the slums to “protect” the rest of the city.

For what it’s worth, District 13 Ultimatum doesn’t rest on its laurels. I’m not talking about the plot, which raises the stakes in traditional sequel form: Once again, the city is toying with the notion of air-bombing the pesky 13th district, where, not coincidentally, most of the city’s minorities live. Only this time, they’re, like, even more serious about it. What I’m talking about is a less-expected development, namely this: où est le parkour?

Having already introduced the world to parkour, the sequel, in a thoroughly bizarre move, keeps these sequences to a minimum, apparently operating under the impression that what drew audiences to the original weren’t the thoroughly YouTubed scenes of real-life parkourists David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli bouncing between buildings and sliding through tiny windows above doors, but the scintillatingly pessimistic satire.

Not that that wasn’t also a major draw of the last film, and even as a more classical, anonymous actioner, District 13 Ultimatum delivers the goods.

Set three years after District 13 and directed by a different Besson lackey, Patrick Alessandrin (original helmsman Pierre Morel having graduated to other Besson projects, Taken and From Paris With Love), it shifts the villainy almost entirely over to hissable city officials while keeping stars Belle and Raffaelli apart till roughly halfway through. The action scenes are fine and thrilling—most of them just aren’t, you know, parkour. Can you fault something that still works despite largely skipping on one of its major promises? Of course you could, but life’s too short. B

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