Monday, August 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: 'District 13: Ultimatum' (2009)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the original District 13, a French action-movie sensation that made a splash in the U.S. and led to director Pierre Morel getting Hollywood work on movies like Taken and From Paris With Love, and now I'm finally getting around to the sequel, District 13: Ultimatum, which came out five years later and wasn't nearly as much of a sensation. It's not hard to see why -- the story is much less exciting, the stunts are less novel, and the political commentary is confused at best. It's still fairly entertaining, and there are a few pretty impressive set pieces, especially a sequence early in the movie that finds the police captain played by Cyril Raffaelli fighting off a horde of bad guys while holding onto a priceless Van Gogh painting that he can't allow to be damaged.

Of course, that entire sequence has essentially nothing to do with the plot, and that's part of the problem with Ultimatum: A movie like this doesn't have to have a fascinating, complex story (in fact, it's often better if it doesn't), but when it takes nearly an hour of the movie just to figure out what the bad guys are trying to accomplish, that's a problem. The first movie had a pretty basic plot involving a crime lord threatening to set off a bomb that would destroy the titular section of near-future Paris. The main characters, a cop and a street criminal, had to disarm the bomb and rescue the criminal's sister. This time around, the two characters are apart for more than half the movie, and the plan they need to stop is a vague conspiracy about demolishing the slums so that a corrupt development company can swoop in and build upscale housing and retail. (The sister doesn't even appear in this installment.)

There's still plenty of action, but there's very little suspense, and the ending is a weird anticlimax that essentially involves the good guys carrying out the exact same plan the bad guys were trying to implement, only with better intentions. Director Patrick Alessandrin follows in Morel's visually hyperactive footsteps, but he's not quite as creative or edgy. Raffaelli and co-star David Belle are still fun to watch, and their parkour stunts are still pretty dazzling, but the movie itself lacks a lot of the liveliness and momentum that made the original so enjoyable.