Sunday, January 29, 2012

"District 13: Ultimatum" (2009)

Starring Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle
Written by Luc Besson
Directed by Patrick Allessandrin
Rated R: Violence, language, drugs
Running Time: 106 Minutes

For all the whiz-bang coolio wizardry that CGI has wrought, there will always be something special and impressive about cool stunts done by real people.  It's what makes Asian martial arts flicks so wildly entertaining, and what makes Parkour look so freaking cool.

Three years after the events of "District 13," nothing much has changed.  The government had promised to demolish the walls surrounding the Parisian ghettos, but to date have done nothing.  District B-13 is still a shambles, run by a group of gangs separated by ethnicity.  Within its walls, Leito (David Belle) continues his campaign to bring down the wall, planting explosives and constantly running from the cops.  He is a neutral figure among the gangs, but his safety is tenuous.

Outside, Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) is a decorated veteran police officer who has just been set up on a bum narcotics charge.  With no one else to call, he contacts Leito to bust him out of jail.  But Leito has his own problems.  He has uncovered evidence of a conspiracy within the government to set off a powder keg within the district, which will convince the government to demolish the ghetto and give the lucrative rebuilding contracts to the powerful Harriburton corporation.

Soon enough, Damien and Leito discover that all these events are related.  While on the run from the police and the crooked agents of DISS, they concoct a plan to expose the conspiracy and force the government to fix the ghettos once and for all.

There's very little complexity to "District 13: Ultimatum."  There's a single twist at the end, one that I'm not even sure makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, it's a straightforward action picture.  The characters are basically drawn, and they don't do anything resembling development throughout the course of the film.  They simply are who they are, and they move from plot point to plot point.

None of it is bad, per se, but it's not particularly good.  Like the characters, it simply... is.

On the other hand, the action sequences are where the film comes alive.  The fights and chases are the obvious attraction in a film such as this.  And it's all live stunts with real people as opposed to the often computer-generated puppets we see from Hollywood pictures.  Men are punched, kicked, hacked and thrown about in clever, fun manners.  One of the opening sequences involves Tomasso fighting off a gang of drug-running thugs with a Van Gogh painting.  It's all totally ridiculous, but it is also ridiculously cool looking.

The only time the film really falters is at the end.  The characters spend the entire film uniting the gangs of the ghetto against the government, which is about to carpet-bomb the whole place... and then all of a sudden, they simply allow the bombing to happen.  They fight their way through corrupt government agents and cops when they could have just uploaded their video proof onto the Internet.  And the part where all the gangs start talking about how they're a family just seems entirely too absurd.

Despite this head-shaking wackiness, the film is pretty enjoyable overall, just on the strength of the action.  It's a slick, good-looking production with cool stunts and action.  But it's disposable entertainment, with very little to make it memorable after its done.  Watch it, enjoy it, forget about it.