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'District 13: Ultimatum' is a showcase for stunts, which isn't a bad thing

Also reviewed: 'Frozen' and 'Shinjuku Incident.'

February 05, 2010
  • David Belle, left, and Cyril Raffaelli in "District 13: Ultimatum."
David Belle, left, and Cyril Raffaelli in "District 13: Ultimatum." (Magnolia Pictures )

Joining "From Paris With Love" in U.S. theaters this weekend is "District 13: Ultimatum," more frenzied action from style-conscious Gallic popcorn impresario Luc Besson, and a follow-up to 2004's "District B13." That cult hit (directed by "From Paris With Love's" Pierre Morel) took the reality of France's immigrant unrest and devised a future Paris in which the government has cynically walled off the most gang-infested and racially charged ghettos.

The tasty filling to that superficially political shell, though, was its showcasing of the gymnastically vigorous, obstacle-hurdling sport called parkour. This time, with Besson scripting / producing and Patrick Alessandrin directing, it amounts to a raucous and colorfully junky helping of seconds. Returning for more acrobatic combat unburdened by vertical challenges -- including a car making its way to, and through, the second floor of police headquarters -- are unlikely partners Damien (Cyril Raffaelli), an undercover super-cop, and anti-drug vigilante and district resident Leito (David Belle, an originator of parkour).

Their mission may be preventing a secret cadre of corrupt cops, politicians and developers from stoking civil strife inside the titular zone for their own capitalistic ends, but the only explosiveness moviegoers will care about is stunt-worthy: Raffaelli dexterously fending off attackers while protecting a valuable Van Gogh, or Belle aerodynamically navigating rooftop gaps, walls and tight-squeeze passageways.

-- Robert Abele "District 13: Ultimatum." MPAA rating: R for some violence, language and drug material. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. At Laemmle Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

Skiers stranded in a chairlift

"Frozen" is the latest ultra-low-budget, "Man vs. Wild"-style horror film in the wake of "Open Water" and last year's "The Canyon." It's difficult to get into its "What would I do?" vibe, though, through so thick and transparent a barrier of contrivances.

The gag is that some remarkably stupid winter sports enthusiasts get trapped high in the air when the ski lift stops and everyone else in the resort leaves very, very quickly. It happens to be Sunday night, so they figure to freeze to death before the weekend-only operation reopens. Complicating matters is a pack of ravenous, human-attacking wolves, just the kind that have made skiing such a bummer in Mishap Valley.

It takes some time to get into the action, and then the film is in the frost-bitten hands of the actors. Kevin Zegers, so good in "Transamerica," doesn't fare as well here. He's crippled, though, by preposterous turns: Apart from the characters ignoring a fairly obvious-seeming solution, he's forced to play highly emotional scenes hampered by a special effect that makes him look like a puppet.

As the girlfriend, Emma Bell is given little to do but be helpless and break previously established rules. As the other friend, Shawn Ashmore (ironically best known as Iceman in the "X-Men" films) does just fine. Writer-director Adam Green has come a long way since his 2006 debut ("Hatchet"), but while simplicity is often a virtue, there isn't enough tension here, and there aren't enough twists to receive "Frozen" any way but coolly.

-- Michael Ordoña "Frozen." MPAA rating: R for some disturbing images and language. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In selected theaters.

Jackie Chan in a Mafia tale

Action star Jackie Chan eschews his usual acrobatic ebullience for a serious turn as a Chinese immigrant surviving the mean streets of Tokyo in "Shinjuku Incident," an earnest gang-warfare melodrama that may make some Chan fans long for "Rush Hour 4."

Popular Hong Kong director Derek Yee ("Protégé"), who also wrote the ambitious script with Chun Tin-nam, attempts to jam a "Godfather"-like saga into less than two hours, causing many key moments to hurtle past in a blur. Not helping matters are dialogue, characterizations and a general acting style that are often as subtle as a brick. On the other hand, Chan's performance as the principled Steelhead is, at times, so subdued he threatens to do a disappearing act.

The film, which follows Steelhead's rise from a lowly migrant worker stuck in Tokyo's seamy Shinjuku district to a big-shot allied with a Yakuza boss (Masaya Kato) in order to protect his fellow Chinese emigres, does build momentum and may contain enough mayhem to keep less discriminating viewers engaged. Unfortunately, the picture's emotional beats, particularly those involving Steelhead and his friend Jie (Daniel Wu), ex-girlfriend Xiu Xiu (Xu Jinglei) and new lover Lily (Fan Bingbing), feel more perfunctory than authentic.

-- Gary Goldstein "Shinjuku Incident." MPAA rating: R for graphic violence, brief sexuality and drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. In Chinese and Japanese with English subtitles. In general release.

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