District 13: Ultimatum
There exists something of a general consensus that while Hollywood makes the big, silly action stuff, Europe is home to the quietly reserved art picture. Put simply, Hollywood makes "movies" while Europe, and in particular France, makes "films." This is just wrong, as evidenced by the likes this highly-fluid, ninety-minute exercise in non-stop nonsense courtesy of scripter Luc Besson and helmer Patrick Alessandrin, who would likely only pick up a copy of Cahiers du Cinema if he had run out of toilet paper.
Picking up three years after the original left off and District 13 remains a walled-off slum run by self-appointed warlords who prey on it’s unfortunate civilian population. With the politicians who promised to reintegrate the district having reneged on their agreement, a shady intelligence chief hatches a scheme with a development company (the hilariously named "Harriburton") to deliberately ignite the powder keg and convince the president to level the entire area and along with anyone who refuses to evacuate. Once again ass-kicking supercop, Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli), and rogue prince of the ghetto, Leito (free-running legend David Belle), are the only guys who can stop it.
While the 2006 original was panned almost universally for shamelessly ripping-off John Carpenter’s Escape From New York – though still went on to become something of a cult hit – this stand alone follow-up could only marvel at that level of ambition. Less of a true sequel and more a simple excuse to have loads of car crashes, shoot-outs and urban foot chases involving teams of armed police trained in Parkour. The nature of the plot could be seen as an attempt to tap the volatile undercurrent of contemporary Parisian society, rife as it is with multi-cultural tension and mutual distrust. But La Haine this is not. More it’s a whose who of borderline offensive racial stereotypes; the rasta French Africans, the leather-clad Chinese, the Arabs, the Neo-Nazi’s, and some unidentifiable greasy contingent (Turks?), all in comical states of over/underdress, each one commanding one of District 13’s iconic high rises.
Fair play to Belle and Raffaelli, they do try. But these guys are athletes, not actors, and you’ll quickly find yourself on your knees praying for some kind of Armageddon each time they’re asked to share some dialogue. Thankfully, that’s not very often, with Besson and co far more interested in having them beat-up room after room full of faceless State goons with an overall level of inventiveness that would shame a graduating class at MIT (a weaponized Van Gogh?). Honestly, it’s hard to imagine any other pictures so relentlessly stylish that it can show you a dude laying waste to a bunch of guys while dressed in an assless pink cocktail dress, make-up, and heels, and still make him seems way cooler than any of us will ever be.
Yes, America does shout the loudest. But for sheer, unapologetic mayhem, liberally laced with absurdly oversimplified political rhetoric and shameless flag-waving, few people do it better than the French.
Starring: David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Runtime: 96 Minutes