Brick Mansions (*)
Running time 90 Minutes
Directed by Camille Delamarre
Starring: Paul Walker, David Belle and Rza
(Movie House Dublin Road preview screening 28/04/2014)
SHIFTING the action from a Parisian banlieue to a Detroit ghetto, Brick Mansions is a typically uninspired, unnecessary remake of the superior foreign language film, District 13. Yet, unlike other stuffy American bastardisations such as Spike Lee’s recent take on Oldboy, there’s a fitting sentimentality to the sheer unapologetically absurd nature of what would be the late Paul Walker’s final finished film.
Much of the action takes place inside a walled ghetto, abandoned by the United States government, overrun with drugs and now controlled by gangsters. When the criminal kingpin manages to get his hands on dangerous device (because “bomb has such negative connotations” apparently), it’s up to (surprise, surprise) hero-cop-who-just-happens-to-hold-a-grudge Damien Coullier (Walker) to go undercover and put a stop to the district’s Kingpin before the city of Detroit is held up at ransom.
Returning from the original film is David Belle, the man who is considered to be the creator of the parkour movement. In a role identical to the original, he plays Lino, a Robin Hood type character who goes up against the over-the-top mobsters types with his impressive free-running moves partnered with his equally unimpressive acting skills. It’s the exact same role he played from District 13 so you think he’d have been able to build on that, ten years down the line.
Walker is in familiar territory as the almost squeaky clean undercover cop who always gets results. Mansions will never be considered the actor’s swan song, and even though he phones the performance in, there is sense of nostalgia to this role, sandwiched somewhere between a disjointed plot and boring action sequences.
It’s quite late in the film before Walker is paired up with Belle, so their relationship isn’t allowed to develop into anything like the Lethal Weapon level of buddy cop dynamics, save for a few very flat choreographed sequences or Belle’s condescending wind-ups aimed at Walker’s lack of free-running skills.
Rounding off the cast is Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA as the crime lord in control of Brick Mansions. Spouting off all the nonsensical, stereotypical rhetoric you’d come to expect from a baddie, RZA delivers these lines with such little menace that he ends playing second fiddle to his much more cartoony, two-dimensional cavalcade of henchmen.
The plot begins to crumble around the half way mark of the film, but when it tries to make some sort of sociopolitical statement that it gets demolished completely. Characterization goes right out the window by the end of the film, rendering much of the film’s build up or back-story null and void right around the time all character arcs should reach a satisfying close.
But of course, Brick Mansions was never meant to be a lesson in pathos. Scripted by Luc Besson, District 13 was also little shaky when it came to the plot, but the French action thriller certainly made up for it with its breath-taking chase sequences centered around the discipline of parkour.
Brick Mansions puts its money on the star power of Walker instead of using the one strength it had over other run-of-the-mill action films. We even get Fast and the Furious inspired car-chases thrown in for good measure, but no matter how much nitrous oxide is in the tank, it doesn’t quite reach the adrenaline pumping heights of the film’s strangely few free running sequences. It almost seems pointless to have put David Belle in this movie at all quite frankly as his talents are wasted.
The fist fights are also incredibly incoherent thanks to poor, out-of-sync editing, with many of the punches that land conveniently being covered by sweeping jackets, shaky cams or unconvincing cinematography. What makes it even more disappointing is that the film’s director, Camille Delamarre has is editorial graduate of similar macho action flicks including Taken 2 and Transporter 3, so one would think that would have been the one sucker punch the film would have been able to deliver.
So let’s call a spade a spade, and call out Brick Mansions for what it is – a terrible action film that would have probably went straight-to-DVD, if it weren’t for Paul Walker’s tragic death in 2013. Let down by poor acting and a disappointing approach to the action, the one saving grace is that by the end, you realize that the film has been reveling in its own absurdity the whole time. It’s enough to provoke a few laughs, but you can’t shake that feeling that you’re not laughing with it, but at it.
Review by Leigh Forgie