Film Review: Brick MansionsAction-meister Besson successfully recycles a French hit, relocating to desolate Detroit suburbs.
Adept as ever at recycling old material, writer-producer Luc Besson has transposed his 2004 hit District B13 from Paris to Detroit for an English-language version which, featuring one of the last roles of action star Paul Walker, should outperform the original. Walker's death in a car crash last November caused work on Fast & Furious 7 to be suspended, but that has now resumed using body doubles and CGI, although release is not scheduled until 2015. In the meantime, “fast and furious” will serve to describe the action in the latest vehicle to roll off the Besson assembly line.
Set in 2018—the original also had been set in a then-near future of 2006—and shot in Montreal, this new version is credited to first-time director Camille Delamarre, the editor on notable Besson productions such as Taken 2, Colombiana and Transporter 3, but has Besson's fingerprints all over it. Like District B13, Brick Mansions is co-scripted by Besson (who wrote the original along with Bibi Naceri) and co-stars David Belle, inventor of the training technique known as parkour, which uses vaulting, flipping, swinging, rolling and above all bodily momentum as a means of overcoming physical obstacles.
There's vaulting and flipping galore as well as the customary ration of fistfights, shootouts, car chases and general mayhem that should satisfy hardcore action fans, and if the storyline doesn't really withstand close scrutiny, that didn't prevent the French version from racking up ticket sales, and that's just as likely to be so in English-speaking territories.
Brick Mansions is the name given to a walled-off derelict precinct of the former Motor City that has become a no-go area, a lawless zone inhabited entirely by hoods and criminals of various stripes. Undercover cop Damien Collier (Walker), fresh from breaking up a drug ring headed by George the Greek (Carlo Rota), is charged with infiltrating the Mansions to take on gangster kingpin Tremaine (RZA), who is threatening to launch a nuclear missile at the city center. He is given further motivation when Tremaine kidnaps his former girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis), delivering her into the clutches of his leather-and-chain-clad female sidekick, the sadistic Rayzah (Ayisha Issa). Damien's sole lead is a contact with the locally based ex-con Lino (Belle), whom he believes to be responsible for the killing of his father, also a cop.
The movie contributes nothing new to the genre, but disbelief is suspended willingly enough once the action gets up to speed. Among the set-piece fight scenes that stand out are one between Lola and Rayzah and another in which Damien and Lino take on a seven-foot hunk known as the Yeti (Robert Maillet). There's the occasional suggestion of humor, but generally the script, best described as functional, eschews wit or irony. Damien and Lino attempt some repartee in their exchanges, but Butch and Sundance they ain't.
The nuclear blackmail and countdown, with Tremaine demanding $30 million if he is to spare the city, are given a nifty twist, but the attempt at a social message—the importance of communal values, the cynicism of politicians—rings hollow and adds nothing to the sum of human knowledge. But these considerations will not deter fans who will find plenty to please them in the stunts (by Michel Julienne) and choreography and in Marc Bell's score, which succeeds by being unobtrusive.