One of the primary elements that separate great action movies from mediocre ones is the crafting of engaging heroes and villains. “Brick Mansions” ignores this concept entirely. Instead, it prioritizes the action, clearly unwilling to be bothered with constructing adequate character development or even a brief history on its subjects that builds beyond the hasty citing of past events. Normally, this wouldn’t be so disappointing, except that much of the fight choreography and parkour-infused chase sequences featured in the movie isn’t nearly as creative or exciting as examples found in “District B13” (the film on which “Brick Mansions” is based).
To even greater detriment, save for the brief double takes and repeated shots from different angles, the overly kinetic camerawork and cutting stymies the view. The aversion to risk-taking extends to the overall tenacity of the picture as well, with a palpable feeling of restraint in everything from the language to the bloodless slugfests. Though the paper-thin characters exude invincibility, the audience wouldn’t care if harm befell them anyway.
In the year 2018, undercover narcotics detective Damien Collier (Paul Walker) does whatever it takes to bring down the various drug runners that can lead him to the Detroit kingpin at the top of the food chain. Meanwhile, French-Caribbean ex-patriot Lino Dupree (David Belle) attempts to clean up the streets single-handedly by disrupting drug shipments and destroying product. When a neutron bomb is stolen from a military transport and brought to the heart of Detroit’s Brick Mansions housing project, a once-glorious quarter of the city that now festers as a walled-off cesspool of crime and corruption, both men will be brought together to combat a common enemy. With less than ten hours before detonation, Damien and Lino must band together to locate and disarm the weapon that now rests in the clutches of arms dealer Tremaine Alexander (RZA), the ruthless criminal overlord who rules Brick Mansions with absolute power – and the man who has kidnapped Lino’s ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) as bait to trap his wily nemesis.
The parkour stunts are obviously the star of the film, though Walker getting behind the wheel for several chase sequences is of sentimental importance for the “Fast and Furious” star. Belle engages in all of the showy, acrobatic, escape artist evasive maneuvers, while Walker takes care of most of the rougher stuff. It’s like clean, anti-combative martial arts versus old-fashioned street brawling, made more notable when the heavy contact engagements retain far less realism. It also detracts when the editing is so overtly reluctant to capture violence; the camera seems to look away when R rated material tries to enter the frame.
Expectedly, the plot tackles end-of-the-world scenarios (here, nuke the city), one-man-army characters, a mindless but distinctive ladder of lieutenants to do battle with (highlighted by giant Robert Maillet as Yeti), and a rugged heroin that is occasionally just as formidable as the men. There’s commentary on Detroit’s near-future, continued crumbling, the government’s corruption and neglect of overseer responsibilities, and the connection between poverty, drugs, and crime. But what starts as satire ends in absolute mockery. As a tussle over a van plays out solely to introduce Damien and Lino’s close-quarter capabilities, a girl-on-girl skirmish arises just for the sake of a catfight (neither one contributing to the storyline or its progression), and the unlikely partners become conveniently complementary soldiers, the film offers up random, action-oriented solutions to spontaneous dilemmas. The scripting is offensively generic and the conclusion is ludicrously tidy (as can be expected from the majority of Luc Besson screenplays post-“Taken”), presenting simple satisfaction over originality or awe – and, in the end, a forgettable outing.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)