Sunday, 31 January 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: District 13: Ultimatum

District 13: Ultimatum

I’ll keep it quite brief. There’s not an awful lot to say about this, even if I try. Let the review just wash over you in much the same way as the film itself. ‘More of the same’ is very much the order of the day in this sequel to the French free-running action flick.

Firstly, I’ll lay this out for the record; I find parkour amazingly impressive. Who wouldn’t? This is clearly going to colour my enjoyment of the film. The problem is that parkour, as impressive as it is, has had its day in the sun. It’s been devalued by its overuse. Casino Royale I’ll let slide but was it needed in Die Hard 4.0? It’s been bolted on to so many action films that it’s the modern equivalent of the proliferation of wire-fu and bullet-time ten years ago.

The biggest problem here, in a film so reliant on it, is that it’s underused if anything. There are some good examples of it, but they’re few and far between and have that ‘seen it all before’ quality. When the lead actors are renowned for their athleticism, and not their acting ability or charisma, it leaves a pretty big deficit at the heart of the film.

As a result of the fast-moving nature of the discipline, the film-makers are faced with three options for their key stunts; show the feat as-is and risk it being too quick, show it in slow-motion and lose the impact of it, or just repeat it immediately from a marginally different angle. They choose the latter, which proves infuriating. For the most part, the rest of the action is made up of, admittedly well-choreographed, punch-ups. Gimmicks such as cross-dressing and the use of a priceless van Gogh as a weapon show a deft comic touch which gives it a Jackie Chan-esque likeability.

Critiquing the script in an action film is a bit like having a go at the Dalai Lama’s dress sense. That said it is pretty dire (the script, not the Tibetan guru’s togs). It actually takes a brief respite midway to recap the plot so far, complete with flashbacks, in an atrocious exposition scene that spells it out for those who may have been slow on the uptake.

All said, it’s enjoyable hokum with a modicum of socio-political relevance concerning the ghettoisation of the French underclass. As such, it resonates as a more realistic dystopia then much of its cinematic ilk.

It’s no masterpiece, even within its own sub-genre, but it’s by no means awful. When taken as nonsense around which a series of mainly impressive set-piece action scenes are hung, it’s hugely entertaining – which is really all you need sometimes.

(Middling) 2/5

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