Set in the year 2018, Brick Mansions tells the story of life inside a walled off Detroit ghetto – where mob rule has replaced law and order. Unable to control criminal activity in the Brick Mansions slums, the Mayor of Detroit, with the support of his constituents, cuts off all government services – leaving residents of the cordoned off district to fend for themselves behind a 40-foot concrete barrier. Without schools, hospitals, or basic human services, the people of Brick Mansions turn to ambitious cocaine kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA) to ease the suffering.
In spite of an iron fisted rule, the drug lord faces ongoing strikes from freedom fighters, led by local hero Lino Dupree (David Belle), who still believe their community is worth saving. However, when Tremaine and his thugs acquire a weapon of mass destruction, Lino is forced to partner with outsider Damien Collier (Paul Walker) – an undercover Detroit Police Officer with his own score to settle inside the walls of Brick Mansions.
Directed by Camille Delamarre, Brick Mansions is a full-fledged American remake of the 2004 French action film District 13 (or B13) – which also spawned a sequel, District 13: Ultimatum. Hollywood filmmaker Luc Besson produced the original District 13, Ultimatum, as well as Brick Mansions – which all rely heavily on urban fight choreography from star David Belle (who was instrumental in developing the “Art of Movement,” Parkour). As a result of Belle’s acrobatics, District 13 earned a cult following (in addition to favorable reviews) in spite of a thin plot and several mediocre performances.
Unfortunately, in attempting to up the action for American audiences, Delamarre’s remake is all style and zero substance – turning the already bland District 13 storyline into a downright inane series of disjointed events. Still, while it’s impossible to take the Brick Mansions narrative seriously, Belle’s unique athleticism along with enjoyable performances from Walker and RZA might provide enough guilty pleasure payoff for fans of over-the-top fisticuff films.
In transitioning the Paris, France setting of District 13 to Detroit, Michigan, Besson and screenwriting collaborator Bibi Naceri devoted little time to even the most basic cinematic requirements. Instead of the six month time window depicted in District 13, the writers attempt to cram identical story material into roughly 48-hours of movie time without any nuanced changes – basically pasting the same villains inside American racial stereotypes. In general, Brick Mansions is an impatient experience that doesn’t bother to develop the narrative or characters beyond shallow (and often offensive) cliches, jumping from one disconnected action set piece to the next without necessary filler to explain the actions of its protagonists.
On a primal level, watching Lino and Damien prioritize punching over strategizing is laughable fun but Brick Mansions isn’t intended to be a Rush Hour-style buddy comedy. Delamarre sets out to tell an earnest (albeit action-packed) dystopian tale filled with commentary on the ramifications of social inequality – where power-hungry parasites prey upon poverty-stricken innocents. In that context, where thousands of innocent people could be vaporized in a flash, it’s impossible to take Brick Mansions‘ heroes seriously; instead, audiences get a pair of indiscreet muscle heads that dispatch enemies via head-on car crashes with nothing more than bricks and well-timed slow motion backflips.
While Besson and Naceri might have written a more nuanced storyline into the script, Delamarre’s execution is a scrambled jumble that fetishizes brawn over brains and pushes suspension of disbelief to an eye rolling breaking point. Given that the District 13 series was celebrated for its implementation of Belle’s parkour choreography, the actor is par for the course as Lino. In the end, Belle’s performance is a mix of shirtless flexing, cringe-worthy ADR (aka “dubbed) lines, and slick fighting moves that either hit or miss based on which member of the cast is on the receiving end.
Paul Walker provides a likable turn as Damien – even though the character isn’t a significant stretch from his well known Fast and Furious role and, next to Belle, the actor is a bit stilted during several complicated stunt sequences. Yet, regardless of problems with the larger Brick Mansions production, viewers who are aware of the actor’s untimely death will get to see the charming leading man full of life in a solid posthumous performance.
Surrounded by a stable of cartoonish villains and saddled with more than his fair share of exposition, RZA manages to turn Tremaine into one of the film’s standouts. More than anyone else in the project, RZA navigates the film’s convoluted social commentary to deliver a genuine character – a man that is the inevitable byproduct of Brick Mansions’ extreme environment. Sadly, in keeping with Delamarre’s commitment to over-the-top silliness, a quality performance from RZA isn’t enough to save Tremaine from a third act moment that is underdeveloped and unearned.
Brick Mansions is an enormous waste of the assembled talent and fails to capture the magic of District 13. With only a few minor changes to the core plot (nearly all of which are inferior), Delamarre’s adaptation mimics the original storyline so close that there’s little reason for established fans to check out the American remake. A handful of highlights prevent the movie from being a complete misfire but it’s hard to recommend Brick Mansions to anyone but filmgoers who just want to see Paul Walker on the big screen or were intrigued by the promise of Belle’s flashy brawling. Outside of a few entertaining moments, the remake is a clumsy mess that rarely lands a memorable punch.
If you’re still on the fence about Brick Mansions, check out the trailer below:
Brick Mansions runs 90 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for frenetic gunplay, violence and action throughout, language, sexual menace and drug material. Now playing in theaters.
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