Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Paris suburbs, writer-producer Luc Besson lobs another Molotov cocktail at the screen with “District B13: Ultimatum.” Fun and frenetic sequel to the 2004 actioner heads back to the titular ghetto/war zone, where racially charged gangs are threatened by corrupt officials, trigger-happy cops and nonstop chaos. With enough references to the 2005 French riots to be considered, if not political, at least timely, the pic skillfully blends combat with social messaging, in an explosive blend that should satisfy fans in Gaul and beyond. Pic opened strongly Feb. 18.
It’s three years later — 2013 — and things haven’t changed much in the locked-down sector north of Paris known as District B13. If anything, they’ve grown much worse: There seems to be even more garbage and guns, more massive drug distribution, and the neighborhood is now divided along strict ethnic lines ruled by black, white, Arab and Asian warlords. So much for the urban melting pot.
When an elite squad of killer cops stages a police assassination inside the nabe, their conniving boss (Daniel Duval) hopes to convince his president (Philippe Torreton) to raze the area so they can all cash in on the real estate boom. Thankfully, local rogue Leito (David Belle) and his law-enforcing partner Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) manage to reteam and run, flip, jump, tumble, twist, swing, punch, kick and head-butt their way to saving the slum from destruction.
Directed by Patrick Alessandrin but clearly marked by series creator and scribe Besson, this second installment offers a similar mix of gonzo gang violence and chase sequences, where parkour experts Belle and Raffaelli jump from rooftop to rooftop like human squirrels. The fight sequences (choreographed by Raffaelli) are especially creative, with the combatants using any available object, including a priceless Van Gogh painting, to get the job done.
Pic’s playful action, shot partially in Serbia, is backed by Hughes Tissandier’s (“Taken”) funky decors and a supporting cast that includes French rappers MC Jean Gab’1 and La Fouine, and TV star Elodie Yung as a sexy warrior who uses her long braids as lethal weapons. Bass-heavy soundtrack by hip-hop artists DA Octopusss and Track Invaders helps sustain the rhythm of the dizzying, at times overcharged camerawork by d.p. Jean-Francois Hensgens (“Go Fast”).
Although Besson has undoubtedly boosted the series with even bigger stunts and setpieces, the omnipresent images of police brutality and civil unrest (including cutaways to actual archive footage) provide a more radical social undertone than in the first film.