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Luc Besson Returns to ‘District 13,’ But Why?

Don’t let the title fool you. District 13: Ultimatum bears no relation to last year’s District 9, though it is a sequel – to the frenzied, Luc Besson-produced District B13 (2004), an artfully choreographed celebration of the French fighting style known as parkour.

For the uninitiated: Parkour, which roughly translates to “the art of moving,” is a discipline that requires practitioners to adapt their movements to any environment. Returning stars Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle, who play incorruptible super-cops, do so with fluid precision, leaping gracefully from deadly heights, scampering from rooftop to rooftop, and dropkicking the enemy into submission – often in various states of undress.

So what’s new, you ask? Not much. Three years after their first adventure, set in 2010, the Parisian ghetto is still walled off from civilized society, ruled by a small cluster of rival gangs. The government, in cahoots with the cleverly named Harrisburton corporation, wants to eradicate the poor to make way for the construction of luxury condos. Our righteous lawmen take exception.

Taking refuge in the notorious District 13, they unite the gangs, and the battle of the haves and have-nots erupts, with more of a whimper than the bang of B13.

That’s not to say Besson, who wrote and produced, denies us the cathartic kicks and manic mayhem that made his leaner, meaner previous effort such an adrenaline rush. Yet Ultimatum seems less a bona fide sequel than a bloated remake, stuffed with dialogue where harder-hitting action once was. It’s not boring, but at no time does it feel necessary.

As for Raffaelli and Belle, they are simply given too little to do. They remain exquisite physical specimens whose acrobatic, gravity-defying stunt work is a marvel to behold, but Ultimatum burdens them with too much talk. They are men of action; words do not become them.