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Is there anyone who has worked harder than Luc Besson to make the French look badass? Since his explosive debut with La Femme Nikita, the action stylist has built a cottage industry of high-octane, Euro-influenced flicks. By far, The Transporter series has been his most successful endeavor to date. With the modest success of 2004's District B13, however, it seems like another franchise trading in fisticuffs is in the making.
Trying to blend French class warfare issues with John Woo-style kinetics, both Ultimatum and its predecessor feature a pair of humorless leads and some truly incredible action sequences. Parkour founder David Belle and martial arts stuntman Cyril Raffaelli team up again to fight evil French bureaucrats with a secret plan to level the dystopian, multi-ethnic District 13 slum to make way for upper-class high rises — no matter how many brown-skinned pseudo-citizens get offed in the process.
Bald-headed cop Raffaelli smacks down criminals with '80s Hong Kong action flick flair while the tattooed Belle (always running, always bare-chested) leads baddies on eye-popping foot chases through Parisian housing projects, vaulting and flipping across the rooftops of crumbling high-rises like Spider-Man. Director Patrick Alessandrin's film features a trio of action centerpieces that will have audiences shaking their heads in amazement — not the least of which is a compact car racing through the upper floor hallways of a ministry building.
It's Besson's script that struggles to find its footing. While it's encouraging to see him inject some political commentary into the genre (along with a Benetton ad alliance of anti-heroes), his characters barely register as humans, the dialogue is devoid of wit or personality, and the story is a guided missile of banality.
Worse, Ultimatum breaks the cardinal rule of action films: End with a bang. After wowing us with frenzied gunplay, bone-crunching brawls and death-defying free running, the movie wraps up its paint-by-numbers plot with a whimper, delivering a quick crotch shot to the villain and leaving everyone hungering for more. Which, come to think of it, may be the point. District 13: Part 3, anyone?
Opens Friday, Feb. 5, at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.