Brick Mansions (2014) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for frenetic gunplay, violence and action throughout, language, sexual menace and drug material
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Catalina Denis, Gouchy Boy, Ayisha Izza, Carlo Rota, Andreas Apergis, Richard Zeman, Robert Mallet, Bruce Ramsay
Director: Camille Delamarre
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Bibi Naceri (based on their screenplay for Banlieue 13)

Review published April 28, 2014

Brick Mansions is an English-language remake of an international hit 2004 French film from screenwriter Luc Besson (3 Days to Kill, The Family) called District B13. It changes a few traits of the characters around, and the locale goes from France to Detroit, Michigan (Montreal largely substitutes), but, in essence, they're pretty much the same movie in terms of plot, tone and tempo. It's directed by Camille Delamarre, who earned his rep in the action business through his crisp editing of superb action montages, and certainly that aspect is the primary appeal of Brick Mansions, as it brings the parkour style to life.

The setting is the Motor City in the year 2018, after a wall has been built to surround the ghetto areas to contain what the elites feel is the criminal element of the city (a la Escape from New York). We're introduced first to Lino (Belle, District 13: Ultimatum), an ex-convict who is stuck in Brick Mansions but who turns vigilante when he becomes fed up with the drugs and thugs that have laid dominion over the entire area. He's out to take down the town's biggest kingpins, and his latest target, Tremaine Alexander (RZA, GI Joe: Retaliation), doesn't like Lino messing with his turf. In order to draw him out, Alexander has Lino's ex-girlfriend Lola (Denis, Le Mac) kidnapped and brought to him.

Paul Walker (Hours, Fast & Furious 6) co-stars as undercover police detective Damien Collier, who is looking to exact revenge on Alexander for the murder of his father, also a cop. The mayor has stressed that Collier's mission is of utmost importance to the city, as the bad guys have carjacked a government vehicle containing a nuke that they aim to use to blow up the rest of the city in about 10 hours time, if their ransom demands aren't met. Lino and Damien start off as enemies, but soon find that they're better off joining forces to take down Alexander, but without any police presence within the walls of Brick Mansions, they're going to have to take down a plethora of armed and nasty thugs all on their own.

Brick Mansions will likely be remembered more for being the last film that Paul Walker fully completed before his death in 2014. The film pays him a respectable dedication just before the end credits in acknowledgement of his memory. He doesn't attempt to do the parkour moves of Belle, but he does continue his string of action movie roles with some physical finesse, even if his acting remains fairly wooden. It's hard not to think about Paul Walker's death when he's in at least three vehicles that get involved in accidents, recalling his own untimely demise, which does tend to put a morose flavor to what should have been purely a madcap action romp.  Nevertheless, he gives it his all, which should be enough to sate his fans.

The supporting cast delivers what you'd expect, with David Belle still a marvel to behold as he performs some incredible parkour moves. RZA is the only other actor of note, and holds his own in a sizable role as the main baddie at large. Wu-Tang fans will enjoy him quoting one of their most famous songs in one key bit of improvised dialogue, possibly the only overt attempt to go for obvious laughs beyond the film's absurd proportions.  Despite all of its actors speaking English, this version still feels like a foreign film that has been dubbed (perhaps because some of the French actors, namely Belle, are), as it still has a very French sense of fashion, music, and action style.  Given that there is already a dubbed version of District B13, and that version bests this in nearly every way that matters, there really is no reason for this film to exist.

If one is to have a chance to enjoy Brick Mansions, one definitely has to resolve that it's a b-movie through and through, and just take it as it comes, regardless of how utterly implausible the imbecilic set-up and cartoonish delivery often is. Luc Besson, who hasn't really tried to make a good film in a couple of decades, continues his string of action scripts with comic-book depth, this time just regurgitating material he's already done before -- twice, if you include the French sequel. Besson's frequent collaborator, Delamarre, gives the action scenes the needed punch (though perhaps over-edited at times -- the parkour segments would be far more thrilling if done in one long take), but he definitely doesn't show much promise in any of the dramatic or thriller elements that emerge in between. 

Though they are similar in many ways, my advice would be to watch the 2004 original, whether subbed or dubbed, to see the parkour action done with less chop and more pop.  This over-frenetic rehash is a decade past its expiration date.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo