Directed by Camille Delamarre. Starring Paul Walker, David Belle, Robert Maillet, RZA, Carlo Rota, Bruce Ramsay. Written by Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen.
Brick Mansions, an English-language remake of the French action movie District B13, has garnered a wide international release for one reason: it’s the final completed feature for Paul Walker, who died in a tragic car crash last November (while Walker will appear to some degree in Fast & Furious 7, he died before filming was finished).
Otherwise, Brick Mansions is a routine actioner that probably wouldn’t rate a theatrical release. But at least it doesn’t pretend to be anything else; in the proper mindset, it can be enjoyed for its self-consciously silly plot mechanics and diverting action sequences.
District B13 wasn’t much better in the story department, but it’s famous for being the film that introduced the urban wall-climbing, roof jumping art of parkour to a large international audience. It starred one of the founders of the movement, David Belle, and was co-written and produced by French assembly-line action auteur Luc Besson. Both return in the same roles for this remake.
Belle stars in the best sequence in the movie, an opening bout of parkour that has him run up walls, jump across rooftops, and dive in and out of occupied apartments (it’s almost a shot-by-shot riff on a similar sequence from the earlier film). He plays Lino Dupree, who is currently on the run from a multi-racial gang headed by Tremaine Alexander (rapper RZA) and right-hand man K2 (Gouchy Boy).
They’re all residents of a decrepit, crime-ridden block of apartment houses known as Brick Mansions, a district of Detroit that has been walled off from the rest of the city. The film is apparently set in a “dystopian future” 2019 Detroit, but even Brick Mansions doesn’t seem all that bad; contemporary Detroit is considerably worse off, going by recent news reports (much of Brick Mansions was shot in Montreal).
Walker fits into the proceedings as Damien Collier, an undercover police officer sent to Brick Mansions to – what else? – disarm a nuclear bomb that has been stolen by Tremaine & co. After accidentally arming the bomb, Tremaine straps it to an old Soviet missile he has lying around and points it to downtown Detroit, holding the city for ransom.
Or something. The whole nuclear bomb plot – complete with a mayor (Bruce Ramsay) who wants to level Brick Mansions in order to build a new development – is aggressively silly stuff, and culminates in a revelation that we all see coming, but still doesn’t make sense. The whole thing is wrapped up in head-scratchingly good-natured fashion.
Given that Walker was no parkour expert, outside of the Belle’s acrobatics in the opening sequence there’s precious little of it in the film. While that’s plenty disappointing –and enough for Brick Mansions to come up short compared to District B13 – there are some polished car chases and hand-to-hand combat scenes, nicely choreographed and kinetically edited courtesy of director Camille Delamarre, who served as editor on other Luc Besson action films (Taken 2, Lockout, Colombiana).
But Brick Mansions is really in cinemas as a farewell to Paul Walker. In-between Fast & Furious sequels over the past decade, Walker struggled to find work in films that received wide distribution; you’d be excused if you haven’t seen (or even heard of) Pawn Shop Chronicles, Vehicle 19, Takers, The Lazarus Project, or The Life and Death of Bobby Z.
Brick Mansions didn’t serve him any better than the aforementioned, but still manages to showcase his appeal: Walker was a charismatic, likable lead presence with some genuine movie star appeal. I (briefly) ran into the star in 2003 while he was in Prague shooting Running Scared for director Wayne Kramer – a harsh, violent neo-noir that was probably his best film, and deserving of a cult following. Kramer posted a moving tribute to Walker on his Facebook page in the wake of his death.
Fans should also check out Hours (also released posthumously), in which Walker plays a father trying to save his newborn daughter in an abandoned New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina; here, he got a chance to stretch his acting chops a little further than usual.
Brick Mansions, on the other hand, is just passable action fare for the undemanding. But there’s room for that, too: you could do far worse for some brainless late-night thrills.