NPR logo Back In Paris, A Hectic 'Ultimatum' In District 13


Back In Paris, A Hectic 'Ultimatum' In District 13

Kiss The Sky: Cyril Raffaelli (left) stars as Damien Tomaso, and David Belle as Leito — two unlikely allies trying to pacify a rough Paris suburb. Belle is often credited as the creator of parkour, a physical and mental discipline on display throughout the film. Magnolia Pictures hide caption

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Magnolia Pictures

District 13: Ultimatum

  • Director: Patrick Alessandrin
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 101 minutes
Rated R for some violence, language and drug material.

With: Cyril Raffaeli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton, and Daniel Duval

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'The Painting'

'Now What Do We Do?'

The greedy French ruling class gets a good thrashing in District 13: Ultimatum, a gravity-taunting sequel to Pierre Morel's 2004 actioner District B13. But as anyone who saw the first movie would expect, the physical kicks are a lot more convincing than the political jabs.

The story begins literally where the last one ended: at the barricaded boundary of a teeming Paris suburb, the "District 13" of the title. Outsider Leito (David Belle) takes leave of his new friend, insider Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), both hoping that upscale Paris and its shabby outskirts will become more unified, as the new government has promised.

Three years later, it hasn't happened. Director Patrick Alessandrin's breathless introductory montage shows that B (short for banlieue) 13 is as lawless as ever, divided into sectors run by heavily armed African, Arab, Chinese, Latin and Russian-Nazi gangsters. Ubercop Damien is reintroduced while busting the world's best-fortified nightclub/heroin den — while in drag, no less. Meanwhile, out in B13, Leito is getting wind of a savage real-estate scheme: The police, the military and a malevolent corporation — all without the knowledge of France's well-meaning president — have planned another showdown with the unruly suburbanites, aiming for the utter annihilation of B13, followed by the sort of high-rise development exemplified (until recently) by Dubai. Because Damien's integrity might be an obstacle for the plotters, the policeman is busted on trumped-up charges. He calls Leito for help, and soon the two are leaping, climbing and punching — and knocking down bad guys by the dozen.

Like its predecessor, District 13: Ultimatum was written and produced by Luc Besson, a one-man action-flick factory whose wildly eclectic approach transplants Hong Kong martial-arts moves to the multi-culti Paris that most French filmmakers ignore — and then adds whatever else is lying around. In the case of the two District 13 movies, the extra ingredient is parkour, the hyperkinetic sport that treats cities as immense gymnastics courses; Belle and Raffaelli are masters of the pastime, which originated in France, so they're believable even when the stunts they execute seem beyond the scope of the human body.

Elodie Yung plays Tao, leader of a Chinese gang that's just one player in the power struggle roiling the suburb. Magnolia Pictures hide caption

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Magnolia Pictures

Elodie Yung plays Tao, leader of a Chinese gang that's just one player in the power struggle roiling the suburb.

Magnolia Pictures

Good thing, because the film consists mostly of running, jumping and fighting. Alessandrin handles them well, although not so vividly as did District 13 director Pierre Morel (whose From Paris with Love also opens this week); Belle has a great chase scene that scampers across rooftops, while Raffaelli — in a clear homage to Jackie Chan — uses a van Gogh canvas as a weapon without diminishing its auction value.

Despite a number of brutal moments and a surfeit of heavily tattooed attitude, the movie is basically a slapstick comedy. Note the way, for example, that the thugs defer to Leito's and Damien's refusal to use guns. The hoodlums obligingly line up to be clobbered, rather than reaching for the nearest Uzi.

In real life, both policing and real-estate development are somewhat quieter vocations than District 13: Ultimatum pretends. But seeing a guy flip on a balcony railing and launch himself up to the next story is a lot more entertaining than watching some M.B.A. print out a spreadsheet.

By the way, architecture buffs should stick around for the final credits — there's a nice little in-joke midway through the list of the movie's minor functionaries.