A film review by Craig J. Koban May 2, 2014

   

BRICK MANSIONS ˝j
 

2014, PG-13, 90 mins.

 

Paul Walker as Damien  /  David Belle as Lino  /  RZA as Tremaine  /  Robert Maillet as Yeti  /  Carlo Rota as George the Greek  /  Catalina Denis as Lola  /  Ayisha Issa as Rayzah  /  

Directed by Camille Delamarre  /  Written by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri

BRICK MANSIONS is one of the most wasteful, wrongheaded, and utterly unnecessary remakes that I’ve ever seen, one that makes you wish that you could snap your fingers in front of the collective faces of its makers to see if they were all awake during the production.  

It’s also one of the strangest remakes ever.  BRICK MANSIONS is based on the mostly fantastic 2006 Euro-action flick DISTRICT B13, written by Luc Besson.  Oddly, Besson adapts his own script here…and it stars one of the main actors from the first film, reprising his role…and it’s pretty much a narrative carbon copy of the first.  What it lacks, unlike the far superior original, is a solid and tangible reason for existing.  More or less, BRICK MANSIONS is an excruciating endurance test more than an enthralling and exciting action thriller, which is made all the more shameful as it marks one of the very last films on the late Paul Walker’s career. 

For what it’s worth, I greatly enjoyed DISTRICT B13 as a schlocky, but fairly well oiled action thriller that introduced the movie world to the splendid pleasures of parkour mixed with martial arts mayhem.  That film’s B-grade eccentricities were made all the more digestible by just how much mileage it got out of seeing nimble and dexterous stars David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli perform death-defying stunts that would have made a Jackie Chan in his prime blush with envy.  DISTRICT B13 had a distinct flavor of originality to it when released, but Besson in BRICK MANSIONS seems positively driven to slavishly and lazily regurgitate the elements of his own 2006 film for a more mass marketed friendly venture.  Alas, why not completely overhaul the first film and make this remake something fresh and revitalizing?  As I exited the theater after screening BRICK MANSIONS I struggled with understanding the motives of spending millions of dollars for such a sloppily executed, beat-for-beat remake.  I’m totally befuddled. 

 

 

Only the most minor of details have been altered in this new version, and by “minor” I’m referring to film’s geography.  In a semi-destopian 2018 Detroit (Paris in the original) crime has ran rampant throughout the city, forcing it to build a militarized wall around its worst area, known collectively as “Brick Mansions.”  Some unscrupulous city planners want to level the area and wipe the slate clean, so to speak, with the undesirables that reside there, but a vile crime lord Tremaine (RZA) has recently acquired a neutron bomb and will use it against any foe, inside or outside of Brick Mansions.  Realizing this new threat, undercover detective Damien (Paul Walker, replacing Raffaelli) is tasked to enter Brick Mansions and stop Tremaine, but along the way he begrudgingly finds himself teamed up with a convict Lino (David Belle, reprising his role) whom has his own motives for stopping Tremaine, like the fact that he has kidnapped his wife.  Alas, the bomb has one of those obligatory red digital countdown timers on it and is aimed at Detroit outside of Brick Mansions, so it’s up to Damien and Lino to put their differences aside to save the day. 

Now, to be fair, I never went on record to describe DISTRICT B13 as an intelligent, thinking-man’s sci-fi/action film.  No, it existed as a primal exhibition for Rafaelli and Belle’s dynamic and eye-popping stunt work.  Yet, the director of that film, Pierre Morel - who went on to direct TAKEN – precisely knew that the best way to showcase his two limitlessly talented stars and their parkour dering-do was to frame the shots clearly while editing everything together with a sense of spatial and geographical clarity.  All of this is completely lost in BRICK MANSIONS, as director Camille Delamarre (amazingly, an editor turned director) opts to shoot nearly all of the action in frustrating close-ups, hazy and eye fatiguing cinematography, spastic editing, and with virtually no sense of even modest lucidity.  At times, the sequences themselves are a complete and mediocre visual blur, which makes appreciating the work of Belle and Walker all the more difficult.  If you want a test, screen the first major action sequence of DISTRICT B13 and then the nearly identically scripted one here and then ask yourself which version is the superior one.  The differences are both noteworthy and appalling. 

Aside from its monumentally messy and choppy visual aesthetic, the performances in BRICK MANSIONS are all DOA.  Belle, physically at least, still has not missed a step from his work in DISTRICT B13, but his performance here – stilted by a beyond obvious English language dub – is unendingly flat, which is not made anymore palatable by the fact that his co-star Walker sleepwalks through his own performance.  That, and Walker and Belle do not at all have the same sort of raw chemistry as an on-screen team that Belle and Raffaelli had beforehand.  RZA is borderline incomprehensible at times as the film’s antagonist and never really seems sure as to whether or not to play the role as a one-note sadist or a calm and dialed-down sociopath.  Many of the other performers in the film, like Belle, appear to have been dubbed as well, which makes for a really awkward transition between them and actors that were not.   

The final nail in this film’s coffin is that it has been marketed as the “final completed film” made by Walker, whom we all know died tragically last year at a dreadfully young age.  BRICK MANSIONS even has an “In Loving Memory” tribute in the film’s final credits towards the star.  Sadly and pathetically, Walker’s participation in the film was of the easy paycheck grabbing variety and certainly is not indicative of the good, solid film work that he did near the end of his life (see HOURS) that he most likely would have continued if he were still alive now.  Regrettably, pondering that this is Walker’s swan song film is soul crushingly depressing, seeing as BRICK MANSIONS is kind of a failure as a remake and a failure as a movie altogether.  In retrospect, the film is beyond pointless and without much artistic merit.  Very few films have simultaneously made me feel angry and sad that they existed...but BRICK MANSIONS is one of them.  

For sure.

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