Director: Camille Delamarre
Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Catalina Denis, Gouchy Boy, Ayisha Issa
MPAA Rating: (for frenetic gunplay, violence and action throughout, language, sexual menace and drug material)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 4/25/14
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 25, 2014
It wasn't until the reveal of the movie's most important plot point that I realized Brick Mansions is a remake of the French action film District B13. It's a testament both to how energetically this movie comes out of the gate and to how forgettable its precursor is (That's not to say it isn't a good film; it is—in an apparently forgettable way).
Once the realization hits, the pieces start to come together. Yes, pretty much everything about this movie is the same, from the rather illogical use of parkour as a means to escape bad guys with guns (who, of course, use or ignore them in an equally illogical way) to the fact that one of its stars played the same role in the original film. That it's easy to forget about the first film, though, makes this movie a reminder that sometimes we place too much value on assessing a remake solely on the grounds that it is a remake (Surely I'm guilty of this at times).
This is an oftentimes exciting exercise in momentum. It's not only the nearly constant motion of its characters, who run and leap and drive in between the few lulls in which the plot unfolds, but also the way director Camille Delamarre presents that action. The movie, edited by Carlo Rizzo and Arthur Tarnowski (Delamarre has also been an editor on several movies himself before this, his feature directorial debut), features plenty of cuts in its action sequences, but they rarely result in any spatial confusion. There's a steady rhythm to the action, typically set to some thumping music on the soundtrack, and at almost every turn, we know where the characters are in relation to their foes and the environment surrounding them.
That environment is vital for the movie's opening scene in which Lino (David Belle, the star of the original film) must evade capture or death at the hands of a vicious gang that is not happy with his systematic destruction of their drug supply. He's trapped in the bathroom of an apartment on an upper floor of a tenement building with a well-armed gang closing in on him. His response is to bolt out of the room—kicking down the door and knocking over baddies in the process—and proceed to sprint, swing, and spring down halls, over and across rooftops, and in and out of windows.
It's an impressive, well-executed sequence, as much because of its fluidity as Belle's stunt work. The sequence may be rapidly edited, but each shot flows into the next with visual continuity—usually following Belle or some part of him from one shot to the next. The sequence works because, visually and kinetically, it makes sense.
The background for most of the movie is a housing project dubbed the Brick Mansions, which, after the city's imposing of martial law at some point in the near future in an attempt to curb the violence within the locale, has been closed off from the rest of Detroit by walls, security checkpoints, and armed military personnel. No one leaves or enters without permission. The mayor (Richard Zeman) has a plan to build new apartment buildings where the Brick Mansions are, but there's the issue of the people who are currently living there.
Enter Damien (the late Paul Walker), Detroit's top undercover cop. He's been arresting the city's crime lords, and the last name on his list is Tremaine (RZA), the leader of the chief gang in the Brick Mansions who also reportedly killed Damien's father during a raid of the projects.
Tremaine has stolen and unintentionally armed a neutron bomb that will detonate in 10 hours. Damien must team up with Lino, who was convicted of the murder of a corrupt military police officer while trying to bring Tremaine to justice, and disarm the bomb. They also have to rescue Lino's ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis), whom Tremaine is holding hostage.
The plot is simple, but it's only an excuse to get Damien and Lino into a series of scrapes where they must fight or flee. The former is almost always with fists (These henchmen don't seem to know the function of the guns they're holding), and the latter is usually in cars (There seems to be no way to have avoided the three car crashes in which Walker's character is involved, although one must question the taste of leaving in a shot of the actor yelling in terror before a potentially deadly collision).
The setups to these sequences are pretty much uniform, but the scenes themselves alternate between routine and clever. For every sequence involving Lino's parkour skills—usually followed by a shot of Damien looking on in disbelief (Walker, playing second fiddle in terms of physicality, displays a real sense of self-deprecating humor in these moments)—or a neat gag involving two bricks, two cars, and two perfectly timed landings, there are at least two setpieces that are rather nondescript.
Those build up with increased frequency as the movie approaches its climax, which is more concerned with muddled politics that ultimately abandons everything that has come before it (The movie has to go through a string of denouements to forgive and forget a lot). The momentum of Brick Mansions—so strong in the first act—lessens considerably before that point. By the end, it's laboring to the finish.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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