Brick Mansions review: bombs away

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Brick Mansions red light

This absurd and pointlessly convoluted remake of a decade-old French action flick feels dated and out of step in more ways than one.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have seen the source material (and I am indifferent about it)

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s been years since I saw the 2004 French film, Banlieue 13 — aka District 13 and District B-13 — and I confess that I do not remember being overly impressed by it… but I think would have remembered if it felt quite so absurd and pointlessly convoluted as this lifeless remake.

Written and produced by Luc Besson (Taken 2, Colombiana; he served in the same capacities on the original), and directed by Besson protégé Camille Delamarre (that’s a dude Camille, by the way), this gives us a Detroit of the year 2018 in which crime has run so rampant that the city has walled off the projects known as Brick Mansions and left the citizens there to fend for themselves without any public services, and with no way to leave. That odd science-fictional stench is a leftover and long-rotted 1980s fear-mongering that makes no sense in today’s reality of steadily declining violent crime — yes, even in Detroit — and so this ends up a little like Robocop (the 1987 one) without Robocop. Instead, we get Paul Walker, in his last completed role, as another fast and furious undercover cop sent over the wall to find and defuse a hijacked neutron bomb. (Yup: there’s an Escape from New York vibe, too. Somehow the French original managed to avoid such associations, but I can’t be bothered to go watch it again to figure out how.)

Inside Brick Mansions, Walker (Vehicle 19, Takers) teams up with David Belle, reprising his role from the 2004 film as a local guy with insider knowledge of the place. The chemistry between the pair is clunky, at best, and it’s not like the bar for buddy pairups hitting it off is particularly high: they just have to punch in unison and make a few wisecracks. But while Belle is here to once again display his talent for parkour, the on-the-run urban acrobatics he helped develop, Walker clearly can’t keep up. Which is no shame — it’s a harsh discipline — but it’s like watching Fred Astaire dancing with an amateur. (Also too: parkour just isn’t the new, cool, surprising thing it was a decade ago, now that every sneaker commercial utilizes it.) It probably doesn’t help, either, that Belle’s heavily accented voice has obviously been overdubbed by someone else (compare the actor’s dialogue in this trailer and then this clip).

The film hopes you will be distracted from the general tedium by a lady villain (Ayisha Issa) in lingerie — so practical for soldiering in a war zone — and the faux sophisticated crime lord (RZA: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas) she works for: he’s into gourmet cooking; that’s, like, unexpected, or something. As is, it must be granted, how completely idiotic the business with the neutron bomb is. Turns out, the movie could have gotten to the point that the villains were after without any intervening movie at all.

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Thu, May 01, 2014 10:38pm

I enjoyed Banlieue 13, but even I wouldn’t claim that it was anything other than a showcase for parkour and specifically for the skills of David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli as the two leads. Whatever else Walker may have been, he was no traceur. Which means instead of “two nifty acrobatic guys” you have here “one nifty acrobatic guy and a generic action movie star”. No wonder it falls a bit short, even discounting the usual anomie of remakes and the fact that Besson and Belle are now ten years older.

reply to  RogerBW
Thu, May 01, 2014 10:56pm

…I wouldn’t claim that it was anything other than a showcase for parkour and specifically for the skills of David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli as the two leads.

That’s what I loved about it.

reply to  Danielm80
Thu, May 01, 2014 11:33pm

Well, yes. But the point is that to remake it without two traceurs as the leads is like remaking Enter the Dragon with some guy off the street who went to a self-defence class once.

Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Mon, Aug 25, 2014 8:04pm

Aside from my love of the original, solely for its showcase for the martial arts and parkour skills of the two leads, it did have a dandy line after the first of the cop’s fight scenes. He looks around at the *many* unconscious bad guys he has just put down, and shrugs, “Huh–personal best.”

It’s on the deleted scenes of the dvd. Some idiot cut it for the subtitled American release. *sigh*