Film Review: Brick Mansions


written by Michael Dequina

Brick Mansions

Even considering how eager Hollywood always is to remake a foreign language success, the idea of an American version of the 2004 French action thriller District 13 always seemed a bit foolish, for the key to its appeal in its native country and its cult fandom in the U.S. is directly and almost completely tied to the particular abilities of that film’s two stars, David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli.  Respectively the founder and a most skilled practitioner of the wall-climbing, roof-jumping urban athletic artform known as parkour, their gravity-defying feats in the action sequences energized and made distinctive what was otherwise a stock scenario of a forced-together mismatched pair battling baddies in a dystopian future setting.

To the credit of director Camille Delamarre, he has retained Belle for the English language remake, Brick Mansions, and the returning star delivers accordingly.  Belle proves to neither have aged in appearance nor general physicality in the last decade, nimbly navigating the walls and roofs of a derelict, dystopian Detroit in a more elaborate and explosive opening chase sequence than in the original film.  Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.

This isn’t an issue of script faithfulness, for the ever-ubiquitous Luc Besson, who co-wrote the original, does the same (with regular collaborator Robert Mark Kamen) here, and geographical shift from Paris to Detroit aside, this film unfolds almost beat-for-beat identically.  To prevent a drug lord (RZA) from using a stolen neutron bomb, an undercover cop (Paul Walker) teams with a convict (Belle) to infiltrate the brick mansions of the title, a run-down, crime-ridden housing project community walled off from the rest of the city.

Brick-Mansions-Movie-PhotoThere are some Hollywood-ized adjustments, for better or worse but mostly inconsequential: as in the original, the crime boss holds a loved one of the Belle’s prisoner, but here it’s his girlfriend rather than sister; Besson makes the half-hearted socio-political commentary more overt; and, in a move that does work, RZA’s take on the crime boss is a far more refined and classy character unlike the original’s more conventionally thuggish type.  But a major ingredient of the original film’s parkour-powered stunts was the “tag team” element of Belle and Raffaelli displaying their abilities in tandem as well as apart.  Needless to say, with Walker, that element is lost, in its place a fair amount of what the late Fast and the Furious franchise star was best known for: fast driving, which doesn’t always fit so well with the close quarters required for Belle’s feats and fights, not to mention a concept-confined setting.

What’s left is the basic–in every sense scenario told much like it was back in ’04, which gradually fizzles out in anticlimactic fashion here much like it did a decade ago, with Belle’s balletic badassery and RZA’s amusingly eccentric criminal cooking connoisseur only going so far to enliven an underwhelming whole.

Michael Dequina