‘District 13’ sequel delivers fast-paced action

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, February 4, 2010 4:04pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The French action picture “District B13” was a welcome blast of amazing stunts and buddy-movie energy. Which means its two main characters couldn’t possibly be kept off the screen for long.

So here’s the sequel: “District 13: Ultimatum,” a similarly raucous affair that reunites the extremely agile anti-heroes of the first film. While not scaling the heights of that B-movie semi-classic, it delivers the goods.

The setting is Paris in the not-too-distant future. As before, an entire neighborhood remains walled off and its poverty-riddled inhabitants housed there to fend for themselves.

Crooked politicians want to raze the place, the better to give the fat rebuilding contracts to their pals (a company called Harriburton, which I’m sure just coincidentally sounds like Halliburton).

They’ve hoodwinked the president (Phillipe Torreton) of France, and he’s poised to evacuate the streets of District 13 and bomb the place to smithereens.

Not so fast. The two supremely skilled protagonists from the first movie will have something to say about that.

In the first half of the picture, each man gets a big sequence. Rogue cop Damien (Cyril Rafaelli) faces down a nefarious den of gangsters while using a priceless Van Gogh painting as his weapon. Nice.

Meanwhile, nimble ghetto resident Leito (David Belle) gets a long escape scene where he hops across rooftops and fire escapes. That’s his game: Belle is the foremost exponent of parkour, the balletic practice that uses urban areas as large jungle gyms.

Shrewdly, the movie waits until the halfway point to team up these two. The key to the “District 13” success is that both Rafaelli and Belle, while gifted stuntmen and fight coordinators, also have great presence as actors — their cocky rapport is the fuel that drives the action.

In the late going, that action becomes increasingly preposterous. It would be easier to take these adventures if they didn’t grow supernatural in scale, including the coup de grace of driving a car both in and out of upper-story windows of a building.

Throw in a passel of District 13’s toughest warlords (all played by French hip-hop stars, apparently) and you’ve got a feast for action fans. But this is no surprise, coming from producer-writer Luc Besson, who makes action films like most people sneeze.

Besson’s usual gift with straightforward, irresistible ideas is in place; he knows how pulp fiction works. Except for two miscalculations (ear-splitting music and an overlong running time of 101 minutes), this one hits the B-movie mark.

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