Whenever a film is released featuring an actor's final performance there will always be a feeling of slight melancholy as you realize the person you are watching on screen in this brand new film is no longer with us. While filming it there was likely no thoughts during the production about this being anything other than just another simple little action flick filled with car chases, gun shots and kicks to the face. It's not the fault of the film that this so happens to be Paul Walker's final role, but as they say in the film itself, shit happens.
So there are likely going to be two trains of thought after those end credits role. First is going to be a reflective state of mind as you process the fact that this is the last time you will see Paul Walker in a new film, a fact made all the more sorrowful when you see his photo along with a message saying "In Loving Memory of Paul Walker" grace the screen seconds after you just saw him all smiles driving up in his sports car just before it fades to black.
Second is going to be whether or not the film itself was the right film for him to say goodbye with. This is the tougher question, because its not as if anyone planned this. Walker didn't sign on to the film thinking, "Is this how I want to be remembered?". Not all actors who pass away well before their time can be as fortunate (is that the right word?) as someone like Heath Ledger whose final performance would go on to be legendary and even led to a posthumous Oscar win. So posing that question can be seen as sort of unfair and pointless, but alas it is a question that needs answering.
As a film, without the stigma of Paul Walker's untimely death, Brick Mansions is a serviceable action flick. Serviceable in the sense that going into it your meager expectations to see a lot of ass kicking, hot chicks and guys pounding their chests in a contest to see who is more bad ass are fulfilled more or less. While the action isn't exactly on the same level as something like The Raid 2 (what is though?), it is easily more polished and well executed than the ususal Michael Bay drivel we get out of Hollywood. But that is more likely in thanks to the film's pedigree than anything else.
The original film, which came out 10 years ago, had a neat catch to help distract from the fact that it was nothing more than an Escape From New York rip off, just on a much smaller scale. That catch was its two lead actors, Cyrill Raffaelli and David Belle, both of whom are professional parkour athletes. To those who are in the dark about parkour, it is basically a physical technique that allows a person to use the environment around them to scale walls, jump through small openings and generally bounce around with no hitch in their step. Visually it is astounding to watch these guys do what they do and strangely it has never really taken off as the next big thing in action films (although the opening chase in Casino Royale featured the sport rather prominently).
But that was the hook, that was what helped separate it from the crowd of other half baked action flicks with the next big action star hopeful in the lead role (looking at you Tony Ja). Well, that and the script by renowned action director Luc Besson, who besides making the cult favorite Sci-Fi flick The Fifth Element, also has writing credits for other popular action films such as The Transporter and Taken. His script for Brick Mansions will feel extremely familiar to any fan of his work, which is a good thing in this case because even when his films fail to deliver any depth (which they usually don't) they always deliver on the action and at least a few interesting wrinkles in the typical action movie formula.
Brick Mansions isn't going to win any awards for originality, but it does mess with expectations enough that it may trick you here and there into thinking it is. Coming in at a lean 90 minutes in length (just ten minutes longer than the original), the film is broken into two distinct sections. The first of which is when we meet our two heroes (yes, this is your basic buddy cop scenario). One is Lino (David Belle reprising his role here), a sort of modern day Robin Hood who robs the gangs of Brick Mansions, a hell hole that has been walled-in and left to its own devices, and destroys their drugs before they hit the street and kill people.
The other is Damien (Paul Walker), an undercover cop who we learn through a rather dangerous stunt is a man who will do just about anything to get his man. Both are doing their own thing, Lino is busy trying to take down the man who is running Brick Mansions and Damien is trying to find the man responsible for killing his father back when Brick Mansions was still under attack by the police before the walls went up. What they don't realize is that they are after the same man, drug kingpin Tremaine (RZA), which means you bet your ass that they eventually team up to take him down.
While the first half of the film runs a bit long before they cross paths, the second half comes through in spades with the fireworks action junkies will be looking for. Just about any classic action scenario you can think of is brought out of the closet and dusted off to be showcased. Multiple car chases, shoot outs, jumping across rooftops and my personal favorite, the two smaller heroes facing off against the bad guy's towering brute who just won't go down no matter what they hit him with. None of it is anything you haven't seen before, but it is well shot and choreographed enough that you will have to try hard to not enjoy the festivities at least a little.
You have to feel a little sad for David Belle though, as this could have been a great introduction of his talents to those who have never seen him in action before. It's not that he doesn't come through on the awe-inspiring acrobatics, its that the looming shadow of Paul Walker's death is too much for him to handle. While in a perfect world we would still have Paul Walker with us and David Belle would be receiving lavish praises for his immaculate physical talents here, alas it isn't perfect and instead the only thing most can find time to talk about is the fact that this is Walker's last film.
Well, let's just say that Belle should not be forgotten in the light of the tragedy that took Paul Walker from us. He is a force to be reckoned with here and it is impossible to not be dazzled while watching him seamlessly traverse with ease the many crazy obstacles placed in his way. Where the problems come in however is whenever he has to deliver any lines of dialog. Unfortunately his English feels just a little off every time he speaks making him sound dubbed most of the time, which is a shame because he is a fine actor. Perhaps if they would have just let him speak his native language it would have been a little better for him, but sadly that doesn't happen.
The real surprise of the film though is RZA who up until now has had a rough time trying to break into the world of acting. His starring performance in The Man with the Iron Fists (which he also wrote and directed) and his small role in G.I. Joe: Retaliation left a sour taste in the mouth of anyone unfortunate enough to see either of those films. But here he finds his calling of sorts, as Tremaine he not only manages to convey somewhat of a personality at last but he is also working with a character that has a few different layers that he reveals over the course of the film rather well. Although the character does make a crucial decision near the end of the film that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (who would want a former drug kingpin as their Mayor?).
Then there is Paul Walker, of whom this isn't so much about the performance but the aforementioned legacy of his acting career. While it is true that the film isn't exactly the swan song one would pick for themselves, there is no denying the fact that the role itself is strangely fitting considering Walker's filmography. The character Damien is an undercover cop who is forced to buddy up with a supposed criminal to gain access to the leader of a crime syndicate whom later discovers that much of what he was told was a lie and (spoilers here for anyone who cares) tosses his badge away to eventually team up with the people he was trying to take down.
Sound familiar? It should as that is the exact same set up for his character Brian O'Connor in the Fast and Furious films and also what is arguably his finest performance in the film noir crime thriller Running Scared. Suffice it to say that Walker fit comfortably into his role as Damien which not only allowed for him to provide his usual convincing performance as a desperate man in over his head but will also give his fans a sense of comfort as they watch him grace the silver screen one last time.
Brick Mansions is somewhat forgettable in the grand scheme of things. If not for featuring Walker in his final starring performance, it would likely have come and gone with little fanfare. When looking at it from the perspective of a fan of Walker's work, the actor had certainly turned in better performances and also had better material to work with in the past, but there is no way getting around the fact that despite the blandness of the film's overall story (and it's admittedly surprising final confrontation), that this is a fitting send off for Walker.
It features the actor in a role that we immediately associate with him and showcases many of the qualities that transformed him from the rough around the edges actor we met back in the first Fast and Furious into the solid and reliable actor he became. While this isn't the last time we will see him on screen, this is the last time we will see him in a complete performance with no visual tricks or gags to fill in the gaps. If you were ever a fan of his work, then Brick Mansions is worth your time and money to catch it in theaters, but as a film disassociated from Walker's death it would be more of a rental recommendation than anything else. Not bad, just unremarkable.
As a remake, Brick Mansions gives very little reason for its existence outside introducing the rest of the world to the talents of David Belle. As an action film, Brick Mansions provides just enough kicks and punches with a director who has an eye for action to justify a rental for action junkies who have never been introduced to parkour action. As the final film featuring Paul Walker in a starring role...it is a bitter sweet swan song for an actor who still had much left to do on this Earth.