Hollywood remakes of foreign films are here to stay because they perform a great service to illiterate and lazy Americans nationwide, but their track record is dubious at best. This is especially true for remakes of action films for two commonly recurring reasons. Hollywood can rarely compete with the action (usually due to pesky things like insurance), and they often over-think the script in an effort to make it “smarter.”
Brick Mansions, the English language redo of the 2004 French hit District B13, thankfully makes no attempt to beef up the film’s intelligence — it’s more likely that they dumbed it down actually. But it will surprise no one that the action is subpar shenanigans created and destroyed entirely through rapid-fire editing.
Damien (Paul Walker, replacing the far more limber and athletically talented Cyril Raffaelli) is a cop fighting the good fight in 2018 Detroit. The city previously walled off the less gentrified neighborhood of Brick Mansions in an effort to separate the urban riffraff from the more upstanding citizens, but when Damien is sent in on an undercover mission he discovers a truth far more explosive than the bomb he’s supposed to defuse. That’s right. Minorities are people too.
He joins forces with a physically flexible (but morally rigid) vigilante named Lino (David Belle, reprising his role of the presumably more difficult to pronounce “Leito” from the original films) who’s been fighting the neighborhood’s drug lord, Tremaine (RZA) ten kilos of cocaine at a time. The film spends a good chunk of time bringing the two together via a “clever” ruse wherein Damien pretends to be a criminal who then impresses Lino with his punching and driving abilities. They eventually realize they’re fighting the same battle as Damien is trying to stop a neutron bomb from detonating and Lino is hoping to rescue his ex-girlfriend (Catalina Denis) who’s been chained to that very same bomb.
I feel compelled to explain how the bomb’s countdown is activated. You see, it was stolen, and its anti-theft security automatically arms the device when opened by unauthorized personnel. Because of course.
But let’s not get bogged down by the complex plot and its subtle commentary on social injustices, race relations and the difficulties faced by small businesses so prevalent in Luc Besson-scripted films. Let’s talk action.
The action is not good.
District B13 came early on in the parkour boom and set a high standard for similar films that followed thanks to its combination of truly breathtaking feats of athleticism and over-the-top sequences. Wide shots of Belle and Raffaelli in action impressed the same way fight scenes featuring Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Iko Uwais have as they make the amazing look effortless. Director Camille Delamarre instead feels compelled to neuter the effect through typical Hollywood action editing where a shot is never held for longer than two seconds. This is her feature debut, but she earned her chops as editor on Colombiana, Lockout and Taken 2. As a graduate of Luc Besson’s School of Boom! she fits right in with the boys (even if her name pales beside the awesomely-monikered Olivier Megaton).
Also working against the action is the presence of Walker in the lead role. He makes for a fine beige wall for Belle to bounce off of, but he’s no Raffaelli in the kickpuncher department. His action beats are repeatedly slowed down to increase the “cool” effect while hiding the fact that it’s not actually all that cool. The film wisely takes some advantage of this by poking fun at his repeated inability to follow in Belle’s spry footsteps, and it’s there where the movie finally comes to rest. As a comedy.
It’s a fun movie in a dumb-script-and-dumber-action kind of way, and thankfully Walker and the others play it deadly serious from beginning to end. Neither he nor Belle are naturally gifted with much in the way of charisma and they pair together like differently-accented shades of grey, but they get some choice dialogue along the way. “Only a crazy person would have a rocket,” says Lino, and he couldn’t be more right. Of course, RZA’s criminal overlord makes a good point when he states later that “Sometimes you don’t need rocket science — you just need a rocket.” This is also true.
Brick Mansions will find a home on DVD and cable as a goofy action throwback featuring one of Walker’s last roles, but it’s no action movie. It pales beside the original and its sequel (District B13: Ultimatum) because it refuses to commit to the wonder of what these crazy parkour folks can do by just sitting back and letting it play out in front of us and instead tries to impress from the editing room.
The Upside: Some laughs
The Downside: Cartoonish and lazy story; action is edited into an unimpressive stutter
On the Side: David Belle is actually the founder/creator of Parkour proper.