Banlieue 13: Ultimatum (2009) Movie Review

It’s been three years since the events of “Banlieue 13”, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or gotten worst, actually. The wall that separates the slums of District 13 and the more civilized (i.e. less tattooed) populace of Paris has not been torn down as promised, and the alleyways are still choking with violent gangs, separated into different AK-toting factions. The residents of the slums have a ceasefire with the cops, but that’s about to change when a third party led by sleazy Government official Gassman (Daniel Duval) enters the picture, determined to instigate an all-out civil war designed to bring down District 13 once and for all.

It’s up to nomadic District 13 warrior Leito (David Belle) and supercop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) to save the day. Of course, that’s just become a tad more difficult when a frame job puts Damien out of commission. Leito, meanwhile, comes into possession of an important piece of evidence that could blow the conspiracy wide open, just in time to flee Gassman’s men, who have targeted him. How exactly is an ex-cop with a penchant for dressing up as a woman and a slick parkour practitioner going to stop all-out civil war? I won’t spoil that for you, but one thing’s for certain, it’s going to involve lots of running, jumping, shooting, and fighting. Plus, lots of convenient plotting, but then you probably already expected that when you saw the “written by Luc Besson” credit, right?

If you were a fan of 2004’s “Banlieue 13”, then “Banlieue 13: Ultimatum” is more of the same. It’s nothing close to being a brain teaser, and the film’s storyline is really just an excuse for stars David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli to show off their physical abilities. I could be wrong, but it seems as if Raffaelli has been practicing in the five years since the first movie, because he easily steals the show from Belle, who seemed to be leaps and bounds ahead of him when it came to the physical stunts in the first film. In fact, Belle mostly just runs around, through, and over people and things in the sequel, while Raffaelli shows off some impressive martial arts skills in a couple of lengthy fights that even the Hong Kong guys could appreciate.

“Ultimatum” was produced and written by Luc Besson, and is directed by Patrick Alessandrin, who opens the film with some groovy camerawork to set up the current state of District 13. The rest of the film see-saws between gritty (the District 13 gangs are violent and intimidating) to silly action movie conventions (Damien and Leito take on the French cops about once every five minutes, or so it seems), with some great stunt work across the board. Of course, as with the first movie, “Ultimatum” is sold on the physical prowess of its two leading men, which Alessandrin shows off with great aplomb in the film’s ridiculous series of action sequences, all the while keeping Besson’s script moving along at a brisk enough pace to keep it from killing the flow of the action. The sequel actually has a higher martial arts quotient than the first one, with a nice balance of featured parkour stunts by Belle and physical ass kicking by Raffaelli.

“Ultimatum” fields a mostly contrived script filled with the kind of narrative logic that would make Shane Black wince in physical pain, and gets progressively sillier as the ending nears. But hey, if Liam Neeson can shoot up and destroy half of Paris looking for his daughter with no legal repercussions whatsoever, I guess Belle and Raffaelli can storm the President’s stronghold (sans guns or a single dead body, natch) without consequences, too. Besson even manages to shoehorn in a gratuitous conspiracy about the Iraq War and — get this — Halliburton. Well, I’m sure Dick Cheney will be happy to know that in the year 2013, the movie’s timeline, Halliburton is still alive and well and going around the world starting wars for the sake of profit. Ol, those rascally Halliburton suits and their profiteering ways, won’t they ever learn?

Stars David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli return from the 2004 original, but co-star Dany Verissimo, who played Leito’s spunky little sister Lola is inexplicably absent except for a brief replay of the original film’s ending. In her stead, the film introduces Elodie Yung as Tao, the fetching female head of the Asian gang who figures prominently into the film’s Third Act. “Ultimatum” makes the poor decision not to introduce Tao much earlier in the movie, instead having Leito interact with the other gang warlords in District 13. Philippe Torreton plays the good-hearted French President, a good man forced to make bad decisions thanks to the prompting of the bad guys. Daniel Duval as bad guy Gassman (even that name sounds evil) is appropriately sinister, if just a tad uncompromisingly mustache-twirling in his evilness.

Without putting too fine a point on it, go into “Banlieue 13: Ultimatum” for the crazy stunts and action, and never mind all that other stuff. Who says the French can’t make mindless action movies? The “Banlieue” films are prime examples that the French, when they put their minds to it, can kill brain cells just as easily as your average Hollywood Summer film. Of course I knew that going in, and as a result found “Ultimatum” to be vastly entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyed it on that primitive, adrenaline-pumping level. In fact, I will even ignore the ridiculous sermonizing that takes place at the end of the movie, when District 13’s various warlords team up to take on the evil bad guys in the name of – get this — “family”. Oh, Luc Besson, you kidder, you.

Patrick Alessandrin (director) / Luc Besson (screenplay)
CAST: David Belle … Leïto
Cyril Raffaelli … Capt. Damien Tomaso
Philippe Torreton … Le président de la République
Daniel Duval … Walter Gassman
Elodie Yung … Tao
MC Jean Gab’1 … Molko

Buy Banlieue 13: Ultimatum on DVD