With his trashily enjoyable ghetto exploitation thriller District B13, writer-producer Luc Besson shrewdly tapped into two cultural phenomena simultaneously: The powder keg of ethnic minorities residing in Paris’ troubled suburbs, and the rise of parkour, a physical discipline that makes a balletic art out of scaling walls, jumping buildings, and moving the body with maximum speed and efficiency. A hit at home and abroad—with an American remake in the works—District B13 begged for a cash-in sequel, and Besson certainly isn’t above providing one. Hewing closely to the original formula, Besson and director Patrick Alessandrin stick to the common action-sequel philosophy: More of the same, only more. Yet here, “more” means a more needlessly convoluted plot, a more cartoonish parade of ethnic stereotypes, and more leaden political metaphor than viewers can digest.
On the other hand, the 15 percent increase in parkour acrobatics is welcome. Whenever they’re swiftly dashing, leaping, and roundhousing their way through scores of hapless cops and thugs, Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle are thrilling to watch, together and apart. What’s missing this go-around is the tension created by their mutual distrust in the first film. Once natural enemies, straight-arrow cop Raffaelli and ghetto hero Belle partner up a little too easily to fight another convoluted scheme to bring down the eponymous sector. In spite of official promises to tear down the walls between B13 and the city at large, the place remains a police-free crime zone, and nefarious forces are working behind the scenes to level five housing towers in order to make room for a luxury apartment complex.
Between some impressively choreographed action sequences toward the beginning and end of the film, District B13: Ultimatum gets bogged down in a criminal scheme that takes oceans of exposition to sort out—and that’s before Besson turns it into a commentary on Middle East canoodling. (The name of the corporation pulling the strings, “Harriburton,” is a good indictor of the script’s level of sophistication.) Apart from the parkour sequences, the film works best when Besson drops the pretensions to cultural insight and allows his instincts for good trash to take over. Having Raffaelli appear undercover as a transsexual stripper or an Asian crime mistress slashing foes with a blade entangled in her ponytail suits Ultimatum far better than political commentary. For someone like Besson, who turns out escapist sleaze by the pound, that should be obvious.