Manly and stupid with a few funny moments interspersed amongst the more cringe-worthy one liners, Brick Mansions is a money-grab remake of a pretty great parkour movie urbanized and up-tempoed for American audiences, and it is the worse for it. Not only is the original 2004 french action film, District B13, much more entertaining (and ten minutes shorter at 81 minutes) but it also starred two actors able to sell the physicality of both the intricate moves of parkour and the bone-crunching beatings on display. Sadly Paul Walker can do neither and while he’s clearly game, the lackluster script and shaky camera work don’t help him in what became his final on-screen performance.
The original film, titled Banlieu 13 (changed to District B13 in english-speaking countries) came from french movie person Luc Besson, known for his work with Jean Reno in action flicks like The Professional. It was taut and frenetic and featured the amazing urban traversal skills of David Belle, who is credited for inventing parkour. It was one of the first times that this style of fast economical movement through a given space was lent major screen time, and Belle’s performance of the stunts and moves himself gave the action a certain grounding on film. Couple that with the acrobatic martial arts skills of fellow frenchman Cyril Raffaelli and you at least have an entertaining (if silly and full of plot holes) movie worth watching.
Brick Mansions is not that movie. It follows the basic plot of the original (madman threatens the poor people of the city with a bomb and only a cop and his criminal partner can stop him) with Paul Walker taking on the role of rogue cop Damien, played by Raffaelli in B13. And man, does this movie miss ol’ Cyril. Walker is just not a martial artist or a parkour traceur, and it shows in the camera work and fight scene editing. David Belle is back and on hand to further destroy his knees in the parkour scenes as misunderstood felon Leito, but he’s ten years older and it shows, particularly in the opening chase scene. It’s one of the best parts of District B13 and sets the tone for the whole movie, but here it seems lackluster and much less death-defying, despite the inclusion of your standard Hollywood rooftop fireball explosion. Take out much of the martial arts and sprinkle in a few car chase scenes for the Fast and Furious fans and that’s what’s left for moviegoers to appreciate.
Or to not appreciate, because this movie is terrible. Poorly written, poorly acted (welcome back, Rza! Now go away again!) and just overall pretty poor. I’m specifically referring to the fact that, for the first 30 minutes of screen time Belle’s character is called Leito, like in the original. Halfway through Paul Walker starts calling him “Lino,” and you have to imagine no one was smart enough to catch it until it got to the editing bay. By then, for obvious reasons, it was too late for reshoots and they went with what they had. He’s credited as Lino on IMDB so take that for what you will.
Taken as a remake, Brick Mansions is a very obvious cash-grab for all involved and isn’t worthy of standing in the shadow of the original. Reviewed independently, it’s a dumb summer flick for action movie and Paul Walker fans, but the shoddy script, confusing plot and frankly one of the dumbest wrap-up endings ever committed to celluloid keep it from being worth your hard earned dollars. Stay home and do a double feature of District B13 and its 2009 sequel, District B13: Ultimatum, both available on Netflix, and enjoy a better and cheaper movie night.
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