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Failed Re-imagining: ‘Brick Mansions’ flounders on all accounts

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Dancing on someone’s grave is never fun, nor is it the sport of kings. Paul Walker was an actor whose meteoric rise to stardom came as somewhat surprising.

brick mansions

FAILED PERFORMANCE: The late Paul Walker fails to emote as Damien in the parkour-heavy ‘Brick Mansions.’ Courtesy photo

He was that good-looking, clean-cut California dude, perfectly suited to play the heel in movies like “Pleasantville” or “She’s All That.” His ascension to marquee-idol was a little less convincing. He always struck me as a low-rent Keanu Reeves. Sure, he was charming enough, but you’d never consider him a master thespian. He found big-screen success with the “Fast and Furious” franchise but struggled to find anything worthy outside of the high-octane franchise. “Brick Mansions” falls victim to the latter.

The film is a Western remake of a superior French movie called “District B13.” Back in the mid-aughts it was deemed “the bomb, yo” by movie hipsters and featured an exciting new form of accelerated movement called “parkour.” This was quite awesome in a time where the Internet wasn’t flooded with parkour videos featuring very brave, very crazy people running, jumping and crashing their way through urban environments. Now, the whole thing seems ridiculously dated.

Detroit is a city on the verge of collapse.  Sadly, that’s not even fiction anymore. The worst neighborhood in Detroit is a walled-off housing community, lovingly known as “Brick Mansions.” The worst criminal scum of the city are housed inside. Lino (David Belle) is a vigilante operating in this hellhole, trying to get drugs off the street to help put a dent in the criminal enterprises of local crime kingpin Tremaine (the Wu Tang Clan’s very own RZA). He responds by kidnapping Lino’s girlfriend as bait.

Damien (Paul Walker), an undercover cop, has his own vendetta against Tremaine, since Tremaine was responsible for Damien’s father’s death. When the mayor of Detroit offers Damien an assignment that takes him inside the war zone, he jumps at the opportunity to exact his revenge. The mission involves a stolen atomic bomb which threatens to level Brick Mansions in 14 hours. Damien and Lino form a tenuous partnership as they try to save the city from atomic destruction while punching and kicking their way through the hood.

I’ve been gorging myself on action films lately. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was an amazing big-budget spectacle, and “The Raid 2” was another inspired martial arts masterpiece. In comparison, “Brick Mansions” falls flat. Terribly acted, poorly filmed and even at it’s most well-intentioned moments, it is laughable.

Paul Walker comes unconvincing as a badass, and his fight sequences are about as well-orchestrated as a third-grade performance of “12 Angry Men.” David Belle is gifted physically, but his acting is more wooden than a petrified forest. Do I need to waste words on the acting chops of RZA?  As an onscreen presence, he’s closer to Ol’ Dirty Bastard than Method Man.

The whole movie is an ugly mess. The filmmakers don’t take the whole affair too seriously, but even with an airy, light tone the best “Brick Mansions” can achieve is being harmless garbage. The movie feels like a time capsule to an era of films best left forgotten.

Producer Luc Besson has made a career putting together Euro-centric action franchises like “The Transporter,” “Taken” and “Taxi.”  Most of his projects have a gimmick. “Brick Mansions” relies heavily on parkour to separate it from other action films. That’s all the style it has, which makes it about as relevant as Chris Klein’s “Mama Mia!” audition on Funny or Die, or Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell’s SNL digital short, “Lazy Sunday.”

Ultimately, the film needs to not exist. It doesn’t do anything to improve on the original and, like last year’s tumultuous “Oldboy” remake, is 10 years too late.



Brick Mansions

Starring Paul Walker, David Belle and RZA
Directed by Camille Delamarre
Rated PG-13

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