Brick Mansions, 2014.
Directed by Camille Delamarre.
Starring David Belle, Paul Walker, RZA and Catalina Denis.
An undercover Detroit cop navigates a dangerous neighborhood that’s surrounded by a containment wall with the help of an ex-con in order to bring down a crime lord and his plot to devastate the entire city.
District 13 was a fairly popular French film released in 2004 and gained cult status due to the prominent inclusion of parkour, or freerunning, in the film’s stunts and for its casting of parkour founder David Belle. After ten years, the film has finally been remade for western audiences as Brick Mansions: a fast, frantic and sometimes erratic piece of popcorn cinema.
Set in a near future Detroit, the eponymous Brick Mansions is a walled off section of the city that has succumbed to crime, drugs and poverty. Belle reprises his role as Lino, a one-man crusader trying to save Brick Mansions from a local kingpin, the villainous Tremaine (played by hip hop star RZA, The Man with the Iron Fists). Into the mix is thrown Detective Damien Collier (Paul Walker, in one of his final roles) who has his own feud with Tremaine to settle. Collier and Leno team up to navigate the dangerous streets of Brick Mansions in order to save Leno’s girlfriend (the gorgeous Catalina Denis, The Tunnel) and deactivate a nuclear bomb stolen by Tremaine. Kick-ass action ensues.
Despite sounding convoluted, the plot is basically nonsense, with any twists heavily signposted early on: it merely serves as set dressing for an almost constant series of car chases, shoot-outs, fist fights and foot chases that are excitingly choreographed and vividly shot by first-time director Camille Delamarre, and set to a pulse pounding soundtrack. The cast give good performances, and both Walker and Belle have strong screen presences, making for a great double-act. It’s just a shame that, with the exception of Tremaine, the characters are mostly one-note and paper thin. Written by action aficionado Luc Besson (The Transporter, Taken) this is not surprising.
The action scenes are not fully convincing however. The film would benefit from another edit to make the action scenes tighter and more compact. At times it just feels lethargic and the mind may wander.
Some of the fight scenes are rather exceptional, feeling visceral and inventive, and when Belle is allowed to show off his physique and mastery of parkour the film comes back to life. Apparently there is a lot less free-running in this film than the original, which may irk fans of the original or of parkour, but I didn’t notice. There are plenty of attempts of humour in the film as well which are mostly successful, usually being delivered by the engaging and charismatic Walker. Robert Maillet, the French giant from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, also has a prominent role in the movie; it’s always great to see him yelling and gurning into the camera.
Overall, it’s an exciting and sufficiently interesting movie, though hardly genre-breaking. I also read an anarchic-socialist political message into the film’s finale which I don’t want to spoil, but it was a surprising turn for such an otherwise dumb, unsubtle plot, but maybe I just read too much into it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★