With Pierre Morel now employing his lean, mean genre talents for Yank B-movies (Taken, this week’s From Paris with Love), the District B13 series he originated with Luc Besson is now bequeathed to Patrick Alessandrin for District 13: Ultimatum, an arbitrarily titled sequel that barely suffers from the behind-the-camera transition. Rather, blame this follow-up’s quality downgrade to lazy fight choreography, which only periodically makes use of the acrobatic parkour style that distinguished the original and, consequently, winds up failing to deliver a knockout set piece to keep the momentum breakneck.
Three years after the last film’s 2010 events, Parisian minorities are still isolated in the walled-off District 13, where criminal gangs have sprung up along stereotypical ethnic/racial lines. The tensions between these clans and law enforcement come to a head when a government security agency bigwig (Daniel Duval) sets in motion a plan to demolish the slums’ high-rise centers of power so he can profit from the ensuing construction (by—groan—multinational Harriburton) of a middle-class neighborhood. It’s a dastardly plot that reunites bald supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) with tattooed ex-con Leito (David Belle), and one that ultimately leads to skinheads, Africans, Arabs, and Asians uniting against their common white-majority enemies.
This fight-the-power scenario operates as a rebel fantasy of empowered French multicultural youth, yet it’s one that never rises above cartoonishness thanks to its sham celebration of mismatched gang clichés (wait, neo-Nazis are eager to team with blacks?) whose gun-and-drugs criminality is disregarded so that they might better function as aggrieved badass “others” with asinine signature skills (Africans are good with machetes, skinheads with their, um, heads, etc.) Sociological silliness aside, though, it’s the action’s overall ho-humness that truly undercuts the proceedings.
Alessandrin’s direction is nearly as swift and vigorous as that of Morel’s, exhibiting a visceral lucidity born from longer takes and spatially coherent editing that allow one to logically follow the frenetic fisticuffs. Too bad, then, that his centerpieces’ visual panache only moderately elevates conceptually bland skirmishes (the finest one involving Damien fighting off hordes of villains with the use of a priceless Picasso painting he can’t scratch) and pogostick parkour chases that feel dully rehashed from the first installment.