Dir: Camille Delamarre. US-France-Canada. 2013. 100mins
Always in motion, rarely entertaining, Brick Mansions is a silly, disposable action movie soured by the untimely demise of star Paul Walker. This English-language remake of the fitfully gripping District B13 feels perfunctory in its tale of unlikely partners trying to take down a criminal mastermind. But Brick Mansions’ genre clichés pale in comparison to the film’s would-be bad-boy irreverence, which ends up seeming in poor taste in light of Walker’s death last year in a high-speed car crash.
Brick Mansions was never meant to be anything more than guilty-pleasure escapism, but Walker’s sad demise casts a pall over the mediocre proceedings, dampening what little enthusiasm there is for this threadbare action offering.
Opening in the US on April 25 and already out in France, Brick Mansions will draw some curiosity from Walker’s fans, who supported the actor through his Fast And The Furious stardom. The film may spark some tentative interest from genre buffs who want their action a little grittier than you’ll find in a Captain America flick, but with summer movie season imminent, this looks to be a marginal theatrical player, setting the groundwork for a solid ancillary run.
Taking place in the year 2018, Brick Mansions focuses most of its drama inside the dangerous titular housing project, which has been walled off to protect Detroit’s citizens from its drug-abusing, criminal denizens. Damien (Walker), a honourable undercover cop, is recruited to infiltrate Brick Mansions to stop a violent drug lord named Tremaine (Wu-Tang Clan songwriter and producer RZA) from detonating a powerful bomb. But Damien can’t do it alone: He’ll need the help of Lino (David Belle), a Brick Mansions ex-convict who must rescue his girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) who has been taken hostage by Tremaine.
District B13 and its sequel District 13: Ultimatum helped popularize parkour, a form of action spectacle that requires actors to be agile as they seemingly bounce off walls and fly through claustrophobic spaces, giving their movements the grace of a gymnast. Belle, essentially reprising his role from District B13, co-developed parkour, and one of Brick Mansions’ modest pleasures is watching him glide through scenes, transforming potentially mundane foot chases and hand-to-hand fight sequences into something almost balletic.
But in the 10 years since District B13 debuted, parkour has lost much of its novelty, especially when it’s been brought to the mainstream through Casino Royale and the Jason Bourne films. And as a result, Belle’s physical feats feel almost passé, and certainly not enough to recommend the movie on merely their merits. Unfortunately, first-time feature director Camille Delamarre — who previously edited Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp productions like Taken 2 and Transporter 3 — doesn’t display much wit or visual imagination to supplement parkour’s familiar choreographed mayhem.
Besson, who co-wrote District B13, serves as Brick Mansions’ screenwriter, and as is often the case with his recent screenplays (the Taken films, 3 Days To Kill, Lockout), the movie is an awkward combination of hardcore B-movie action and half-hearted campy humour. (If that wasn’t enough to keep Besson busy, he also revisits District B13’s stab at social commentary, straining to make points about economic disparity and urban strife.)
Delamarre tries to jolt some laughs out of the mismatched pair of Damien and Lino — neither man trusts the other, and tough-guy Damien is stunned by Lino’s acrobatic brilliance — but the verbal jarring has all the sophistication of playground name-calling. Likewise, RZA’s Tremaine is meant to be a suave psychopath, but the rapper-turned-actor is given very little with which to conjure a compellingly evil character, unless you count his penchant for preparing simple meals with a needlessly large knife while muttering vaguely threatening comments.
Ultimately, Brick Mansions is yet another junky, unremarkable Besson product, but what makes it unintentionally irritating is Walker’s presence. Known for his rugged charisma, Walker died in November at the age of 40 as the passenger in a fatal car crash. Coming out less than five months after his death, Brick Mansions can’t help but feel slightly tasteless as Damien engages in several adrenalised car chases.
To be fair, one of them, which requires Damien to go from clinging for dear life to a car’s back bumper to eventually manning the wheel, is pretty effective. But the generally ho-hum execution of most of these stunts only serves to underline the movie’s utterly callow treatment of life and death. Of course, Brick Mansions was never meant to be anything more than guilty-pleasure escapism, but Walker’s sad demise casts a pall over the mediocre proceedings, dampening what little enthusiasm there is for this threadbare action offering.
As one of Walker’s final performances, Brick Mansions isn’t a great send-off, the actor forced to dignify a generically haunted cop who’s been slapped with the painful memory of a slain hero father. Transitioning to his first English-language part, Belle is disappointingly stiff, better at taking off his shirt than conveying deep emotions. In this way, though, he’s in good company: Actresses Catalina Denis and Ayisha Issa wear some of the most ridiculously “sexy” outfits in recent B-movie memory, trying and failing to own the ludicrousness of their respective roles as girlfriend and villain’s demented henchperson.
Production companies: Relativity Media, EuropaCorp, Transfilm International Inc., Canal +, DB, Cine +
International sales: EuropaCorp, www.europacorp.com
Producers: Claude Leger, Jonathan Vanger
Executive producers: Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Matt Alvarez, Romuald Drault, Ginette Guillard, Henri Deneubourg
Screenplay: Luc Besson, based on the screenplay Banlieue 13, written by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri
Cinematography: Cristophe Collette
Editors: Carlo Rizzo, Arthur Tarnowski
Production designer: Jean A. Carriere
Music: Trevor Morris
Main Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Gouchy Boy, Catalina Denis, Carlo Rota, Ayisha Issa