District 13: Ultimatum DVD

Saturday, 31 October 2009 11:09

Five years after the much-imitated “District 13” introduced Free-Running to the world, the sequel aims higher, as so many sequels have before it. “Bigger, slicker and darker” is its mantra. Set in a reasonably dystopian 2016, three years have passed since the events of the original came to a bone-crunching close.

Despite the promises of those politicians not shamed by the revelations of the first instalment, the situation in Parisian District 13 has not improved. It is still a ghetto-ridden hell-hole, ruled by five gang warlords and their violent, drug-dealing thugs. Some people manage to avoid trouble and lead a reasonable, if down-trodden existence, but trouble lies around every graffiti-sprayed concrete corner.

District 13 - UltimatumUltra-nimble Leito (David Belle) is still trying to make a difference, one pacifistic bomb-blast in the District’s wall at a time. Meanwhile, supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli – also fight choreographer and a stunt co-ordinator) is framed and put behind bars before he unearth a secret-service plot to flatten the District and transform it into a lavish money-spinning and vote-winning new housing and office development for the better-off.

The core of the film centres on our two heroes reuniting, and how they hope to combine their unique skills to expose the shady conspiracy before the President is forced into a corner, and gives the go-ahead to call the bombers in.

Director Patrick Alessandrin has evidently understood the strengths of the first film, namely the duo’s kinetic acrobatics and explosive kung fu. Each scene features Leito leaping, rolling, sliding and flipping his way out of trouble, Damien punching, kicking or pile-driving his opponents into the ground, or both stars magically interacting at the same time to utterly confound the heavily armoured waves of masked police goons.

It is exhausting to watch, and once again my chin was on the floor a number of times as some new stunts wowed me. Leito is reminiscent of - and I hate, but have to use the term – a non-combative Jackie Chan on steroids, and Damien has the combined speed and might of Jet Li and Jason Statham.

Unfortunately, despite being a physical match for them, neither star has the charisma or screen-presence to match the heavy-weight action stars they are in competition with. They also come across as a little bit too self-assured and straight-laced, and barely gain a scratch throughout the film which means we never fear for their lives. They are just too damn good at what they do, and unbelievably it makes the film less compelling as a result.

Whilst the first instalment was relatively dark and gritty, this one - written and produced again by Luc Besson (“Léon”, “The Transporter” trilogy) - is almost unremittingly po-faced. There are a few wise-cracking lines but otherwise the leads just get on with the job (serious and urgent though it admittedly is). The more humourous characters from last time either got wiped out or have been replaced by new, less amusing models.

The tone of the film is not varied enough to give it some contrast, and becomes too grey. Other than the honour-bound and questioning President (Philippe Torreton), the sharp-suited politicians and State Security policemen are virtually interchangeable and one-dimensional. Even the towering, Bond-like henchman who promises greatness throughout the film fails to deliver in the end, which is a bitter disappointment after so many decent action scenes build up to a confrontation.

Critically, without the original’s drama surrounding Leito’s sister to inject some human interest into proceedings, it gets a bit dry.

Ultimately, the movie is worth watching for the action scenes, though the bulk of the plot can be taken or left as desired. If a second sequel is planned, I for one would hope the producers will reintroduce a healthy dollop of humour to give the film more texture, and make the characters more likeable.

The DVD and Blu-ray releases (Certificate “15”) feature a stylish and informative “making of” featurette (26 mins), some deleted and extended scenes, a music video and a couple of trailers.

They are both available now, priced £15.99 and £24.99 respectively, or less from www.culttvstore.com. Good value box sets of both movies are also available.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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