‘D13: U’ invites you to follow the bouncing Frenchmen
By Scott Marks
SDUN Film Critic
District 13: Ultimatum (2009)
Directed by: Patrick Alessandrin
Written by Luc Besson
Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton and Dany Verissimo
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
It’s been five years since Pierre Morel’s action packed “District B13” bounced audiences around the multiplex. With rare exceptions (“The Godfather Part II,” “Gremlins 2,” “Exorcist II: The Heretic”) most sequels do little more than rehash what made the original click, and I was a tad distressed upon learning that the director wouldn’t have a hand in the follow-up.
Writer/Producer Luc Besson appears to have been too busy working on the script to “District 13: Ultimatum” to give “From Paris with Love” (also written by Besson and directed by Morel) his full attention. “D13: U” is everything the Travolta turkey should have been and wasn’t. It’s a shame that those who paid to see “Paris” won’t go near this – they don’t know what they’re missing. This film and its predecessor pack more action than all the “Bourne” pictures combined, yet on opening night there were no more than 10 people gripping the armrests of Reading Cinemas’ plush Gaslamp Theatre. American audiences, too lazy to read subtitles, simply refuse to work for their art.
When last we met, dirty cop Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) and reformed thug Leito (David Belle) had just finished saving Paris from a government-planted neutron bomb aimed at blowing up the homeless population confined to District B13. It’s a good thing the duo swapped cell phone numbers. Incapable of reigning in the violence, the government decides to execute a nuclear air strike to eradicate the troubled ghetto.
“District B13” introduced American audiences to parkour (the art of moving), an energetic style of physical discipline, originated by Belle, that incorporates running, jumping, vaulting and climbing in a manner reminiscent of the Jackie Chan school of martial arts. There’s a moment when Tomasso, too hurried to bother opening a car door, whisks cleanly through the open window. At times our leads bounce around faster than a pair of golf balls in the spin cycle.
It’s not as tight as the original and the stunts aren’t as jaw dropping, but this time the film takes on a stronger political stance. The corporation behind the planned bombing is named Harriburton, and in order to thwart the attack, Tomasso and Leito recruit the aid of four generally acknowledged threats to white society – a skinhead, a black militant, an Arab and a hot chick with facial tattoos – to help save the day. And not since FDR has a presidential figure (played by Philippe Torreton) been cast in this positive a light.
The opening sequence brings to mind the Chinese restaurant coke bust in “From Paris with Love.” Instead of relying on quick cuts and a barrage of gunfire that lead up to the money shot (cocaine raining from the ceiling), Besson ups the ante by throwing in stolen works of arts and a hero who relies on brains, not bullets. Dressed in drag that makes him look like Howard Stern in his “Miss America” days, Tomasso uses a Van Gogh, valued at 200 million euros, as a weapon to combat a seemingly endless stream of aggressors.
By the time it was over I was spent. (The hard driving techno score might have had a hand in my fatigue.) This is director Patrick Alessandrin’s fourth feature and his first action picture. (Prior to “D13: U” his main stock in trade was romantic comedies!) To the best of my knowledge this is San Diego’s first exposure to one of his movies. My guess is the true auteur behind both “Districts” is Luc Besson, a creative force who has always impressed me as a much sharper producer than director.