Banlieue 13: Ultimatum (France 2009)

Rating: **
Review Date: 2/6/10
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Writer: Luc Besson
Action Choreography: Cyril Raffaelli
Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Elodie Yung

Who would have thought that "Banlieue 13" (2004) would have spawned a sequel? While the original introduced the world to parkour (free running) and focused on David Belle's amazing athleticism, "Ultimatum" is a showcase for Cyril Raffaelli's hard hitting fight choreography. Taking place three years after the events in the first film, nothing has changed and B13 is still a dangerous walled community run by warlords, smugglers, and drug kings. Another plot is hatched to bomb the neighborhood out of existence, and Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) and Leito (David Belle) once again team up to save B13 and all of France from a bloody civil war.

Yes, the plot is ridiculous and the politics are absurd, but that's not why we're watching this film. We're watching it for the marvelously staged action set pieces. Unfortunately, the film is a bit of a letdown in the action department, due to poor camerawork and editing. David Belle's action scenes are a complete mess and visually uninteresting. I have no doubt that his stuntwork is technically brilliant and requires a lot of physical skill and precision, but the camera fails to capture his energy and convey the spirit and execution of his craft. It's visual anarchy, but it's also boring to watch. Raffaelli's action scenes fare better, with wider shots and locked down cameras. He is in top fighting form and his choreography is surprisingly sophisticated and brutal. He doesn't hold back, and some of the stuntmen take some pretty hard hits. He also picks up a nunchaku at one point, but never actually uses it, which is really disappointing. What's the point of having that scene, unless the rest of it was cut out by film censors? (I know that the UK has strict rules about not showing nunchakus on film) And if you're going to cut out that scene, then why not be consistent and also cut out the shot of him picking up the weapon in the first place? As it is, it just introduces a confusing continuity flaw.

The writing is typical Luc Besson material, punctuated by ridiculously excessive male posturing. However, it's nice to see a strong woman in the bunch this time around (sexy Elodie Yung), and she gets into one nicely staged, albeit gratuitous, fight scene. David Belle continues to be disarmingly charming, and his exchanges with Raffaelli are both witty and endearing. One might even sense a hint of homo-erotica between them, but that could just be a European thing. The film also tries, unsuccessfully, to be funny with an extended scene of Cyril Raffaelli in drag. I can suspend disbelief for a lot of things, but I cannot picture him as an attractive woman with enough sexual charm to infiltrate a high security criminal hangout AND secure a private audience with the head honcho. As an exotic dancer, no less. The back-to-back shots of him and his female body double are laughably discontinuous, but I suppose that just adds to the silliness of the whole thing. Overall, if you can put up with the nonsensical plot, "Banlieue 13: Ultimatum" offers a nice helping of mindless violence and hard hitting action, and even with its shortcomings still manages to put Hollywood fight choreography to shame.