District 13: Ultimatum

Film Review – District 13: Ultimatum (2009)

Ah, the French. They have such a unique way of doing things, no? This is at heart just your basic action film, but seeing as it comes from the pen of Luc Besson, the man who brought us Leon and Taxi, you can gather that it’s a little quirkier than most.

This is actually a sequel, the original film – District 13 (2004) – is supposed to be good and so when I saw it was due to be shown on Film4 I set the Tivo. Either I made a mistake or the guide did, because what I actually recorded was the sequel but I figured it wasn’t the kind of film that would be spoiled by watching them in the wrong order, it’s hardly The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! Although come to think of it, there is one of those in the film…

The plot (such as it is) revolves around an attempt to destroy the eponymous District 13, but really you might as well forget about that as it’s not why you’d watch this film. The story is far-fetched to say the least, and really only exists to stick all the action scenes together in some semblance of order. Most of the time that would be a recipe for disaster, but somehow this film just about pulls it off.

Many of the action sequences feature Parkour, indeed the film stars David Belle who is credited as being one of the founders of the movement – before that, it was simply known as ‘running about the place and jumping off all the things’. He’s pretty good actually, acting wise – or at least it seems that way through the extra filter of subtitles at least. He’s certainly up to scratch with the action sequences, as is his partner in crime (Cyril Raffaelli) – another seasoned Parkour chappie, and the pair work well together.

The fight scenes are reminiscent of some of the work of Jackie Chan in that they include humour and deft movement skills instead of just mindless violence, all of which elevates them above the norm in this genre. One of the early scenes involves a man dressed as a lapdancer fighting a bunch of goons while trying to protect a valuable painting, which should give you some idea of the kind of thing I’m talking about.

There are some classic Besson trademarks here – if the bloke hasn’t got shares in Peugeot then I’m a monkey’s uncle. As in Taxi, there are numerous key scenes featuring their cars including one where a Peugeot 106 is driven through a building, crashes out of an office window, lands on a parked car below, and drives off seemingly unscathed. It’s all part of the fun though and if you try to take this film too seriously then you’re going to struggle. Even though Besson didn’t direct either this film or Taxi, they share a similar madcap style and sense of humour and I can only attribute that to his involvement with both (he wrote this and he produced Taxi).

I liked it, despite the silly plot and the fact that it’s an action film with the odd attempt at social commentary thrown in. It’s not as good as Taxi, but if you enjoyed that then you’ll definitely find something to like in the breathless action sequences and Gallic humourous interludes. Good fun!

District 13: Ultimatum [DVD]

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