A few months ago, the arrival of Brick Mansions would have only meant something to fans of the original film, Luc Besson's rather incredible District B13. But now the film has been given added weight due to the passing of its star, Paul Walker, making this his final completed work. It's impossible not to get a little teary-eyed at the sight of him in the action-genre he became such a part of. Sure, he'll appear to some degree in next year's Fast & Furious 7 but this is it as far as finished features go. And that only makes it that much sadder the film is a total disaster, one that will also have those District B13 fans crying for an entirely different reason.
The original film eschewed traditional martial arts action for the parkour craze that was sweeping the world at the time, led by star and parkour legend David Belle. There was so much wall-jumping and energetic acrobatics, Belle and his co-stars made Jackie Chan look like he has been standing still his entire career. Because of that, there was concern over this remake toning things down to accommodate Walker who, whatever his talents may be, is not the most fluid of screen combatants. Besson, back penning the screenplay for this one with protégée Camille Delamarre directing, recognizes this and tries to frame the story as more of a comedy than a straight-up brawler. But without the one thing that made the story work, the parkour, there's nothing of note here for the film to hang its hat on.
Besson has always had a...well, let's call it a tenuous grip on class and social issues in his movies, but Brick Mansions dumbs them down to crazy levels. The slums of Paris are replaced by a militarized ghetto version of future Detroit that looks a lot like modern day Detroit. Things haven't gotten so bad that the city's crime-ridden housing project, known as Brick Mansions, has been cut off from the city by a giant barrier manned by armed soldiers. Rich white fat cats plot ways to wring every dollar from the bankrupt city, and the evil mayor's plan is to simply raze Brick Mansions to the ground and start some high-end housing. Wu-Tang Clan member RZA juggles a sketchy Jamaican accent as Tremaine, the chief drug kingpin ruling the city (wait for it) "with an iron fist". The obvious nod to RZA's directorial debut is just one of many such distracting script contrivances. Does RZA actually use the phrase "Cash rules everything around me"? Yes he does. Walker plays Damien, an honorable cop living in the shadow of his slain father, who is recruited to bust into Brick Mansions and put Tremain down. But to do it, he'll need the help of Lino (the returning David Belle), the slum's vigilante hero. Lino is motivated to help when Tremain kidnaps his spicy Latina ex-girlfriend. To make matters worse, she's tied up to a nuclear weapon which will be launched into the city unless a ransom is paid.
So clearly, this isn't to be taken all that seriously, which is good because the script is laughably atrocious. They try to make some campy headway out of the mismatched cop pairing, with Damien watching in slack-jawed awe as Lino soars through the air and slithers through narrow crevasses with impossible ease. Parkour was a big deal when the first film came out, and Belle was one of the guys who created the art form, but other than an amazingly kinetic opening sequence he doesn't get a chance to show much. Most of the action is of a pace Walker can handle, shot unimaginatively by Delamarre. Not that a film like this demands a lot of critical thinking from the audience, but the conclusion is a boondoggle of implausibilities where all character logic goes out the window like one of Belle's signature leaps.
And it's especially sad because we all want to see Walker's final films show him in the best possible light. We want him to go out on top, don't we? There's already a discomfort in that his final two movies will be chock full of speeding car wrecks. . Can't he at least go out in something that will be fun for audiences to watch him in? Unfortunately, Brick Mansions needs to have a wrecking ball taken to it.