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Just when you think you've seen everything that a martial arts film could offer comes the French actioner "District 13: Ultimatum." Director Patrick Alessandrin enlivens the genre with a macho cop hero who performs kung fu with a priceless Van Gogh while dressed in drag. While it doesn't match the bombastic, bone-breaking brio of its predecessor, 2004's "District B-13," this sequel imaginatively spices up the leftovers.
Written and produced by Luc Besson, France's answer to Michael Bay, "Ultimatum" is set in the near future, when the French government has given up on controlling the racially charged Paris ghettos. The slums have been sealed off behind concrete walls and left to deteriorate, Third Worlds in miniature. Wildly tattooed drug dealers and urban warlords of various ethnicities rule their own domains. What little order can be maintained is in the hands of vigilantes like Leito (agile David Belle, a pioneer of the wall-jumping discipline parkour).
Also bashing heads is Leito's onetime partner Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli), an incorruptible police officer who specializes in kicking derriere and taking names. Alessandrin and cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens stage Raffaelli's fight scenes like old-school dance numbers. With wide-frame compositions and a minimum of editing cutaways, we get to see him sock platoons of evildoers in real time. Along with Tony Jaa, Raffaelli is in the top tier of global action stars for physical prowess, if not dramatic ability. And let's face it, action fans don't really want a lot of fancy play-acting; that just gums up the destruction.
The wispy plot involves a conspiracy to raze the ghetto with a nuclear air strike so corrupt that officials can cash in on the redevelopment. Exactly how you turn a radioactive killing ground into a viable urban renewal project is a question the filmmakers don't tackle. It hardly matters once Leito and Damien reunite. Belle and Raffaelli perform superhuman leaps over walls and between buildings without the aid of stunt doubles or CGI effects. The script stumbles over basic narrative hurdles, but you can't have everything.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186