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Saturday, February 27, 2010

District 13: Ultimatum (2010)


In 2004 Pierre Morel directed District 13, a French-language action flick mixing parkour with guns, government and the walled in ghettos of Paris, France. Co-written by Luc Besson the film earned enough buzz, and Morel's work was appreciated enough that he went on to direct Taken (also co-written by Besson) to a domestic box-office total eclipsing $145 million and a bona fide action-director career. While Morel isn't back for this sequel it will be interesting to see if the same luck finds new director Patrick Alessandrin considering the two films are almost carbon copies of one another.

Set two years after the original film, District 13: Ultimatum is set in 2013 and the government's promise to clean up the Paris ghetto dubbed D-13 has not been kept. The government has little interest in its inhabitants, and why should it? Populated by drug dealers, gunrunners and criminals it's not exactly a haven for young children, newlywed couples and white picket fences. However, our vigilante hero Leito, played by David Belle returning to the role he played in the original, is determined to clean things up as this film sets out to tell pretty much the exact same story the first one told. Keep in mind when I say "exact" I'm not straying too far from the truth.

Returning with Belle is Cyril Raffaelli playing undercover cop Damien Tomaso as they must face off against a government agency whose goal is to evacuate D-13 and demolish the crumbling cityscape so they can make a real estate deal on the sly and profit from the misfortune of others. Standard silliness for an action film simply interested in figuring out a way to set up moments of chaos, but it is amateur hour in the script department as all of Damien and Lieto's investigating leads them to the knowledge the contractor set to benefit from all of this is called Harriburton giving us the following hilarious exchange:

Damien: The Prez demolishes, Harriburton rebuilds.

Lieto: Like in Iraq.

Damien: Yeah… except they're French.

Good thing they spelled that out, because I wasn't quite understanding the name similarity. Sheesh.

It hardly needs to be said, but the plot of this thing is paper thin, so much so the subtitles are hardly necessary as the story can be figured out without a single spoken word. However, that doesn't mean it doesn't entertain. It just means it's entertaining in that straight-to-DVD kind of way, which is pretty much how I expect most people will end up seeing it.

This isn't a big surprise – as anyone that saw the original already knows – this is glossy videogame-esque fodder. Movies like this are space-fillers and while the original made a minor stir this sequel won't find the same traction. More of the same and less interesting is never a recipe for success, but that isn't to say District 13: Ultimatum director Patrick Alessandrin isn't using the film as a stepping stone the same way Morel did.

As I said, Morel went from District 13 to Taken starring Liam Neeson and it appears Alessandrin is finding similar momentum as he preps the action thriller Protection which is set to star Clive Owen. It seems writer/producer Luc Besson knows what he's doing as he not only brought these two French directors to Hollywood, but Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans remake helmer Louis Leterrier is yet another French prodigy of Besson's. Perhaps that fact alone makes District 13: Ultimatum a film to watch all on its own. However, I wouldn't recommend you waste too much effort as I can only imagine this one will be streaming for free on Netflix very shortly, much like its predecessor.

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