Writer/producer Luc Besson has shoved parkour action, fast ‘n furious car carnage, and RZA stunt casting into a blender and emerged with ‘Brick Mansions’. Sadly, the results aren’t nearly as fun as the ingredients sound. In fact, this is a downright stupid movie.
When ‘District B13‘ emerged from Luc Besson’s Eurotrash genre factory in 2004, it was a genuine Mountain Dew extreme shot of caffeine to the action industry. Running on an engine of the then-fresh parkour school of ridiculous stunts and a colorful blast of comic book surrealism and social commentary, the flick instantly became something of a cult hit and quickly influenced the action genre at large (in particular, the opening of ‘Casino Royale’). Now, a full decade later, Besson has dipped back into his trunk for a remake that is also inadvertently Paul Walker’s swan song. It would be nice to say that the movie recaptures the ‘District B13’ magic for the subtitle phobic and gives Walker a high note to go out on. Yep, that sure would be nice. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.
The plot is pretty much beat-for-beat the exact same as ‘District B13’. We open with parkour founder David Belle doing his thing in a crazy chase scene across a vaguely sci-fi-ish rotted-out apartment block. Unfortunately, parkour players age in dog years, so Bell’s antics aren’t nearly as death-defying or exciting as they were the first time around. That sense of disappointment carries through until the end credits.
Once again, Belle is the lone nice guy in a sea of impoverished criminals that the government has segregated from all the rich folk, only this time in a futuristic Detroit. The new setting allows for social commentary with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to take on a racial dimension, so our drug-dealing villain is played by none other than the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (whose character likes to spit out song lyrics as dialogue, including a little Wu-Tang to embarrass the fans). RZA ends up falsely imprisoning Belle and kidnapping his girl as punishment for our hero destroying some drugs. (D’oh!) Then we meet Paul Walker as a no-nonsense undercover cop who takes down a drug cartel with a car. That gets us about halfway through the running time, at which point screenwriter Besson hastily shoves the two leads together as a mismatched buddy duo who have to go back into the Brick Mansions fenced-off projects to stop RZA from blowing up the city with a stolen bomb.
So, the plot is stock and clichéd, enlivened only by a half-hearted attempt at “Haves vs. Have-Nots” commentary and a healthy spattering of action. That was true of the infinitely superior ‘District B13’ as well. (It would have to be, given that Besson essentially Xeroxed the script.) However, that flick got away with it thanks to its fresh approach to action, a hysterically heightened style, an awesomely trashy techno score, and some brilliant visuals by Besson’s disciple Pierre Morel (later director of ‘Taken’). Unfortunately, none of those aspects transfer to ‘Brick Mansions’. Or if they do, they feel toned down and tired.
While it’s nice to see David Belle return, he simply can’t do parkour like he once did. He’s older, rustier, and the production feels dogged by justifiable safety concerns that didn’t affect things last time. Then there’s Paul Walker. While the guy certainly had a talent for action movies, he simply can’t match Belle physically. The script tries to turn this into a joke and gives him a few car chases (which are apparently his specialty), but they’re ultimately a distraction.
Beyond the dulled action scenes, Walker and Belle don’t share much chemistry, due in no small part to a language barrier. So, all of the characterization is left to RZA, and that was not a wise move. He’s not nearly as talented an actor as he is a musician, and he should never be asked to do more than humorous cameos. Editor-turned-director Camille Delamarre also doesn’t have nearly the same skill with visuals or pacing as Morel. More often than not, the movie feels dull. Even though the script piles on action set-pieces every ten minutes or so and the credits roll before the 90-minute mark, the film somehow manages to feel bloated and poorly paced.
There’s a chance that none of this will be a problem for audiences who haven’t seen ‘District B13’, but I doubt it. Bad is bad, and the few charms that survive from the original are watered down to the point of incomprehensibility here. The few additions like Walker’s grandpa, RZA’s cooking habits, and a bondage Bond villain sidekick are more distractions than anything else. It’s a shame that this failed remake (delayed release by a few years, by the way) and a CGI/stock footage assisted ‘Fast & Furious’ sequel will be Paul Walker’s final legacy.