Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Movie: District 13: Ultimatum

Going international with this one.

Luc Besson, most commonly known for his work writing and/or directing films like The Professional (aka Leon), The Fifth Element, and Transporter, often does work in France as well, evidenced by the first District 13 film, released in 2004 and which I randomly came across on Netflix. That film was set against a near-future Paris split into districts, with a particularly nasty ghetto (B13) in line for total destruction by some nasty dudes. Starring David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, it was a neat, if not terribly thought-provoking action movie that showed off the respective skill sets of its two main players. Belle is regarded as the founder of an increasingly popular athletic discipline known as parkour, which is a sort of open world gymnastics. The agility and athleticism required to reach full potential are what Belle brought to the first District 13 film, as he runs and jumps fluidly and without hesitation. In one of the recent Bond films, Casino Royale, the man Bond is chasing early in the movie is practicing parkour.

Belle's co-star in both the original and now the sequel, Raffaelli, is a martial artist by trade and is also working into his acting ability. You may remember him as the crazy monkey man Bruce Willis couldn't put a bullet into in Live Free or Die Hard. Raffaelli has picked up some of Belle's parkour technique and uses it in the sequel.

This time around, after many promises that the situation in B13 would be improved with government funding, things are still stagnant and the area is run by independent warring factions. The French president is presented with the option to decimate the five tallest buildings in the district, which house the five primary gangs, and then re-build. The movie revolves around Belle and Raffaelli's (as Leito and Damien) plan to prevent this from happening.

As sequels will sometimes do, the sets are bigger, the stunts are cooler, and the story is weaker. From watching some of the disc extras, it is shown that Belle coordinated the various parkour sequences, while Raffaelli was responsible for the fight scenes. Their role in the second film is much larger in all aspects, as the biggest reason a sequel was even made was the action scenes starring the two of them in the first movie. This time around, the parkour is subdued a bit, and quite honestly it seems like Belle's role has been reduced to a sidekick. That said, the two main characters have undeniable chemistry, and every scene with them together are stand outs.

The plot is pretty basic, but some of the other actors really came to play. The French President in particular, played by Phillippe Torreton (who I guess is a big deal in France), is outstanding. He communicates a great deal of emotion through facial expressions, and the viewer believes he is dealing with a serious moral struggle.

To some extent, the movie uses plot points to set up the next fight scene, which is not the worst thing that could happen in a straightforward action movie like this. For the most part, the fights are fun and creative, with Raffaelli using a painting as a prop/weapon early on in a scene Jackie Chan could be proud of. I don't remember a lot of moments that seemed totally out of place, with the exception of a huge ramp inexplicably being right next to a building and offering an easy car stunt.

Unfortunately, the story falls completely apart at the end. I'm not sure if I missed something along the way, but I'm quite sure that the very scenario the protagonists just spent the last 30 minutes trying to avoid has suddenly become their favorite option. It reeks of being tacked on.

The easiest way to recommend the movie (and its predecessor) is by saying that it stars two likable, handsome, physically skilled actors who clearly enjoy working together and pull off some eye-popping stunt work. Worth renting on the cheap, or maybe picking up the Blu Ray combo if the price drops low enough.

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