Brick Mansions is good, silly fun, despite some dumb dialogue and a reused conceit.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, we’ve all seen the 2004 Luc Besson-produced, Pierre Morel-directed District B13, right? That film was a vehicle for its star, David Belle, and his then-newly invented form of acrobatics called parkour. Parkour (essentially the art of flying outdoor wall scrambling) has become something of an action movie standby in the ensuing decade, having made its way into Jason Bourne and James Bond movies, and even television commercials. The original film was something of a trifle – the story was pretty usual, and the characters typical – but it made a minor splash in action movie annals for its stunts.
Camille Delamarre’s Brick Mansions (also produced by Luc Besson) is a remake of District B13. It has largely the same story, most of the same main characters, and even features David Belle. Notable changes: The film is now in English. Belle’s original co-star, Cyril Rafaelli, has been replaced by the late Paul Walker. The film now takes place in a near-future Detroit instead of a near-future France. For the most part, though, it’s the same movie.
Which is fine, because Brick Mansions also ports over the clunky Eurotrash fun of the original wholesale. Belle, even a decade on, is still amazingly capable at his invented craft, has a wonderful physique, and is still a wonder to behold at what he does best: flinging himself bodily through tiny concrete apertures. Also, Paul Walker is a decidedly more charming leading man than his French counterpart, and he and Belle have a wonderful on-screen chemistry that relies on casual banter as much as it relies on equality of flipness. That was the magic of Paul Walker: he always looked like he was having a good time. The man is missed.
The story is a pretty simple sci-fi-ish setup, and should seem old hat to anyone who has seen Escape from New York: In 2018 Detroit, the crime-infested slums have been walled off from the rich portion of town. An evil drug dealer crime boss (RZA, good enough) has somehow acquired a neutron bomb (!) and has strapped it to a missile (!), planning to launch it at the rest of the city unless his demands are met. The police are largely corrupt and will not help. The only people who can stop him are a scrappy local parkour expert (Belle) and an undercover cop (Walker). They must work together to dispatch the bad guy’s minions, rescue Belle’s comely girlfriend (Catalina Denis), who has been chained to the rocket, and solve the mystery of how the bad guy got the bomb to begin with. I will not, of course, spoil the ending, although since this is a remake, you can kind of guess where things go.
Some fun details: Goûchy Boy plays a thug named K2, The RZA has a vicious minxy lesbian sadist thug played by Ayisha Issa, the car stunts are pretty awesome, and while technically this may mark the dialogue as “bad,” I do enjoy the weird near-ESL approach to some of the line readings. This may not be a verbatim quote, but I seem to recall the following exchange: “…And that is what I think.” “Well, then, you can just put me on the list.” “What list is that?” “The list of people who don’t care what you think.” It’s not exactly Lubitsch in here. Oh yes, and at one point, RZA, in a tribute to Bob Marley, actually says “Looks like I’m gonna have to shoot the sheriff and the deputy.” Snicker.
Indeed, the bulk of the script is pretty dumb. The dialogue is merely utilitarian, and the plot a bit extraneous. It drives the movie forward, but doesn’t offer much in the way of wit or common sense. One of the characters, for instance, who is seemingly irredeemable, becomes inexplicably re-staged as a hero late in the film.
From an objective standpoint, Brick Mansions is a clunky and hasty actioner. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a grand time watching it. It’s the kind of action movie whose forward momentum and clarity of B-movie purpose are strong enough to keep you lively and entertained for a good 90 minutes. It’s brisk, chipper, and good silly fun.
Rating: 3.5 Burritos