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'District 13: Ultimatum': Martial arts and Pakour return for the sequel

Promotional poser for "District 13: Ultimatum"
Promotional poser for "District 13: Ultimatum"Magnolia Pictures

In addition to being a bad action movie, “District 13: Ultimatum” has the annoying quality of enduring the company of some condescending blowhard that wants everyone to know how smart he is. But even more annoying than that is the fact that thinking you're smarter than everyone and not being very bright go hand-in-hand.

Through its plot and its dialogue, “Ultimatum” compares its subject matter with Palestine apartheid, the Iraq War and Haliburton, and Auschwitz is mentioned once for good measure. But what do those things have to do with the movie? Nothing really, the movie puts them out there and then doesn’t dramatize those comparisons. The movie just wants you to know that it’s smart, that this is the kind of stuff smart people think about, and that it has more on its mind than action scenes. But I would rather have a movie with quality action that’s short on ideas than a blowhard one that doesn’t even have good action scenes.

In the first movie, “District B13,” a Paris cop (Cyrill Raffaelli) and a good natured ghetto thug (David Belle – founder of Parkour) team up to infiltrate the B13 ghetto – a suburb so overwhelmed by crime that it’s walled off from the rest of the city – to disarm a powerful military bomb that a crime lord accidentally acquired. The movie combined Parkour (free running) with martial arts to be an inventive and entertaining action movie. “Ultimatum” basically has them doing it again but in an inferior movie.

The movie’s fight scenes aren’t shot very well and we end up missing some of the choreography, which compared to the first movie, isn’t very good either. There was a change of hands in the director, which might explain it. The original was directed by Pierre Morel who went on to direct other movies produced by Luc Besson’s famous Europa studio including “Taken.” “Ultimatum” is directed by Patrick Alessandrin, who had previously directed poorly received comedies. I don’t know why he was chosen to direct this movie but he’s out of his element with the action scenes.

The action expands to include more of the ghetto and the various ethnic gangs that control different burrows, who start to get in on the action. In another point against the movie’s intellect, all of their identities conform to racial stereotypes.

What was good about the first movie was the impressive and daring stunt work that combined free running with martial arts. Many of the stunts involved no wires and displayed great craftsmanship in choreography, martial arts, and free running. And Pierre Morel’s camera captured the details of the action. All of that is absent in the sequel. The stunts are toned down, except for one chase scene that involves a couple impressive leaps from the tops of buildings, but they aren’t well photographed. There are fewer action scenes overall, and include one where the cop has to protect a van Gogh painting that gets in the middle of it. How does something like that even happen? It doesn’t matter, smart people like van Gogh right?

*1/2 (out of 4)

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David Jackson can be reached at davidjackson.calgaryexaminer@gmail.com.