More of the running, jumping, and rarely standing still that marked “District 13” is repeated in this sequel, but to predictably diminished returns. But what really undermines “Ultimatum,” as it’s subtitled, is a political foundation so goofy in its desire to pander to those who see themselves as socio-economic outsiders that it descends into virtual self-parody.
The picture’s set in 2013, and the improvements promised in the first installment to the titular neighborhood—so crime-ridden and dangerous that it’s literally been walled off from the rest of Paris—haven’t happened. Indeed, the situation’s gotten so bad that the place has come to resemble the urban ghettos in places like Somalia, where blocks are ruled by warlords whose gangs are armed with weapons of ferocious firepower and do battle with one another as well as the cops. Among the denizens, of course, is good guy criminal Leito (David Belle, master extraordinaire of parkour or “free running,” in which he springs up and down walls as well as across streets), who wants to reconnect the district to the larger city to encourage its redevelopment.
Working on the outside is, once again, high-flying undercover cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), who’s shown in the first huge set-piece systematically collaring a bunch of crime kingpins while posing as a hooker in drag.
Unfortunately, Damien seems to be the only honest cop in the city (at least above street level)—and a favorite of the Republic’s humanist president (Philippe Torreton)—which explains why, when the prexy’s malevolent aide (Daniel Duval) decides to engineer a plot to blow up District 13 and rebuild it in gentrified form (bringing huge profits to himself), he trumps up a charge against Damien and tosses him in the clink. Fortunately Leito learns of the plot, which is initiated by killing three policemen and pinning their murder on neighborhood toughs. It seems that a street kid had filmed the operation with his cell phone and given the tape to Leito before the conspirators scooped him up.
So Leito breaks Damien out of jail and the two of them go into District 13 to persuade the rival warlords to join together in a common purpose and save the neighborhood—and the nation and the president—from disaster. Of course, the misfits do in fact ally in a pact of solidarity (a word that’s actually used!) and foil the dastardly plan. (Just think of Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” with a “kumbaya” conclusion.) In the end, though, they convince the thankful president to follow through with the demolition and rebuild the area, as Leito puts it, “with parks and jobs”!
It’s that absurd final reel that dooms “Ultimatum.” It used to be hookers that had hearts of gold in cliché-ridden plots; now it’s gang leaders who suffer from that condition. The notion of outcasts fighting against the system has a long and distinguished history in literature and film, but here it’s handled as it might be in a second-rate graphic novel. The portrayal of the sinister government types at the heart of the conspiracy is equally cartoonish.
Still, the action serves as compensation, especially when Leito and Damien are at the center of it. A pity that entirely too much of the picture is devoted to exposition rather than their athletic razzmatazz. Each of them does get a chance to exhibit his skill early on, and when they’re finally brought together for the jail-break sequence, the result is exhilarating. But the final battle, in which they’re merely two in a crowd, is busy but disappointing, with too much emphasis on the other players, like Elodie Yung’s Amazonian babe, who uses her long braided hair (with large metal clip attached) to knock bad-guys out. Director Patrick Alessandrin, replacing Pierre Morel (who instead helmed “From Paris With Love,” the other movie from the mind of prolific French producer Luc Besson released this week), is adept in the action (choreographed by Raffaelli) but far less so in the all-too-prevalent linking scenes.
So long as “Ultimatum” sticks to the stunts, it’s fun. Unfortunately, when it delivers its masses-against-the-man message, it stumbles. And that’s far too often.