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'District 13' a worthy follow up to the original

District 13: Ultimatum (NR)

3 stars out of 4

Just as the 2006 "District 13" so forcefully demonstrated, its sequel "Ultimatum" offers solid proof that action/adventure movies can be as smart as they are explosive. While not quite as clever and intelligent as the original, "Ultimatum" is a worthy follow up and, unlike most sequels, stands on its own. Even if you didn't see the first, you'll still be able to follow the plot — although renting the 2006 installment on DVD before seeing this film is highly recommended.

Picking up three years after the first one ended, the story is set in 2013 and takes place in the B13 district on the outskirts of Paris. Riddled by gang violence and written off by the police as a lost cause, B-13 is its own mini-city. Armed to the teeth and surrounded by a barrier wall separating it from the rest of Paris, its fragile chaos is controlled by a handful of racially mixed warlords who are all reasonably happy with the status quo.

The fragile alliance is disrupted when Detective Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) goes undercover (in drag) and arrests the district's highest volume drug dealer. Normally this type of ingenious police work results in high praise and medals, yet Tomasso is set up by his brethren and arrested for drug possession. Relying on an uneasy bond formed in the first installment, Tomasso calls on criminal vigilante Leito (David Belle) to break into jail help him escape and figure out what's really going on.

One of the better mismatched buddy duos ever, Tomasso and Leito are able to take on dozens of guys at a time and actually make it appear believable. Looking a lot like a steroid-free Vin Diesel, Tomasso provides both the brawn and brains while Leito, a tattooed and ripped version of Colin Farrell, supplies the distraction.

While notably impressive, Raffaeli's mixed martial arts style of fighting isn't anything we haven't already seen before in dozens of other films. While he's busy beating guys up, Belle is doing everything he can not to even get touched and watching him do so will cause the viewer to often question the laws of physics.

The 36-year-old Belle is the acknowledged inventor of "parkour," a French-based physical discipline that is made up of running, jumping, climbing walls, Jiu-Jitsu and avoiding obstacles of all sorts. With apartments, office buildings, garages and alleyways providing his canvas, Belle pulls off a series of impossible moves that defy gravity and are so visually impressive and eye-popping, they would make Fred Astaire and Jackie Chan turn green with envy.

Sadly, producer Luc Beeson's screenplay can't hold a candle to the first and we can figure out the ending long before the start of the third act. But even a second-rate Beeson script is preferable over most other action/adventure slop. Any movie that uses a Van Gogh painting and a woman's hair as weapons deserves credit and merits the attention of any serious action/adventure fan.

"Ultimatum" isn't quite as sublime as the first, but it easily matches its spirit and visual "wow" factor. As sequels go, it's far better than most and that's saying a great deal. (Magnolia)