Friday, August 24, 2012

District 13: Ultimatum

"PARKOUR!!!" would have been a perfectly serviceable tagline for District 13: Ultimatum, but instead we are given...well...nothing.  Huh.  That's alright, though.  If you never got around to seeing the truly impressive physical stunt spectacular that is District B13, the filmmakers made a sequel that does more of the same, but with more explosions.  That might sound pretty dumb to you, but this is a French film, filled with subtitles; if you're not an Artsy Film sorta person, this might be a nice middle ground between you and your pretentious loved one.  It has all the foreignness of classic French New Wave, but with all the stupid action you demand from American Summer blockbusters.  Everybody wins!

District 13: Ultimatum takes place three years after the original District B13, which essentially means 2016/the ominously near future.  D13 (as the hep beatniks call it) remains a racially diverse ghetto that is ruled by gangs.  Leïto (David Belle) is still the king of his high-rise, despite not being a drug or weapons dealer and resembling that guy from How I Met Your Mother.  Nobody ever explains how he attained such a position of power, but "parkour" appears to be the answer.  After the events of District B13, it looked like D13 would be cleaned up (with Leïto's cooperation) by the government and made into a somewhat hospitable area; that never happened.  Now, somebody wants Leïto dead, for reasons that were lost to me.  Let's just assume he's being framed.  Meanwhile, supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) is still a total badass, even when he's forced to go undercover as a sexy lady.  Correction: especially when he's a sexy lady.
L-R: Josh Radnor and a "your mother"
It turns out that there are corrupt government officials who want to see D13 wiped off the map, so they can build up the area from scratch --- minus the poor, disenfranchised inhabitants, of course.  You can probably guess what happens next: it's team-up time!  Leïto and Damien pool heir efforts in an attempt to ruin the bad guys' evil plan and do some totally bitchin' stunts. 

The acting in District 13: Ultimatum is hard to gauge because the subtitles are pretty awkward.  In some movies, that would be an insurmountable problem, but D13:U treats it as a mild inconvenience.  Of course, it helps that this movie doesn't rely on acting.  Instead, this is the French equivalent of a Jackie Chan movie, without the gags.  David Belle, founder of parkour, is definitely not much of an actor.  He does have some pretty effortless (and allegedly stuntman-free) action sequences, though:

And that's far from the best action scene in this movie.  That scene, which was basically one of the highlights in Casino Royale, was the point where you got up to get popcorn in D13:U.  The best stunts come from Cyril Raffaelli.  Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a good clip of Raffaelli in this movie, but he's done a ton of great work in a bunch of movies, so here's a clip of him in Live Free or Die Hard, because it was both awesome and because I never realized this was him until I started researching his work.
The acting is really negligible, outside of those two "actors," so I won't bother with the rest of the cast.  BUT, if you're the sort of person who wonders aloud when they see a recognizable actor, the chick with the hair-as-a-weapon was Elodie Yung, who had a brief part in the American version The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and might feature prominently in the next G.I. Joe movie.
It's like her character was inspired by Willow Smith

If District 13: Ultimatum was never going to be about the acting, then how about the direction?  Well, let's just say that director Patrick Alessandrin wisely chooses to play to his cast's strengths.
Like flying, for example
The dramatic scenes --- which take up too much of the first hour --- follow some impressively convoluted logic.  It's not a big deal, and it could definitely have been the subtitles, but this story is fairly ridiculous, and is treated with as much sincerity as the cast can muster.  The acting's not bad, but there just isn't a whole lot of it.  To be fair, there isn't much of a script to work with.  Luc Besson is the only credited writer for this movie and IMDb lists his contribution as merely "Scenario."  It's not too surprising that the characters are barely developed and devoid of interesting dialogue.
This is how the cast reacts when someone calls "LINE!"
Alessandrin did do a good job filming the action scenes, and that's really what District 13: Ultimatum is all about.  Some of the parkour bits were cooler in the original film, but I enjoyed the scenes that combined parkour and martial arts.  Another highlight was the indoor car chase sequence; I don't think I have ever seen a driving scene quite like that one.

Unfortunately, for every inspired action sequence, there are two that serve as filler.  Don't misunderstand me --- the physicality of the actors is extremely impressive.  And there are a lot of action scenes.  Not every action scene is very exciting, though.
This movie could have benefited from more martial arts and less parkour escapes.  Of course, it would have also been nice to have a better plot and script, too.  Do you need an example?  SPOILER ALERT: The heroes have beat the bad guys and saved District 13 from being bombed into the Paleolithic era.  So what do they do?  They order District 13 to be bombed into the Paleolithic era.  And the weirdest thing?  Both sides had exactly the same argument.  That is just reprehensibly dumb.
Dumber than even he looks
I guess the ultimate question is whether or not District 13: Ultimatum is worth your time.  Some of the action scenes are fun and truly unique.  For those moments, this is definitely worth a watch.  There are not enough of those scenes to make this a can't-miss movie, and that --- combined with the script and the acting --- detracts from the overall quality.  Definitely impressive for anyone interested in parkour or if you are impressed by actors doing their own stunts.  Definitely a pass for anyone looking for an action movie with a good story.


  1. Did you not review the first one in the series? I thought you did, but I cannot find it.

    1. I thought so too, but I guess not. I must have watched it right before I started this blog. I remember liking the first one more, if only because I hadn't seen any action like that before. Plus, the plot was less stupid.

    2. Are you sure you did not just forget to link it? I really thought I remember reading a review of it and BVM is the only logical place that could have happened.

    3. It's definitely not on the blog. I think we were emailing movie reviews to each other at the time. I remember recommending it to you, anyway.