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Brick Mansions
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by Jay Seaver

"Not in the same district."
3 stars

The first action-oriented previews for "Brick Mansions" made it look like David Belle was at the center of the movie with Paul Walker around to give Americans a familiar face; the later ones would focus more on Walker and his character's personal motivation to complete this mission and avenge his father. Now, while Walker was by all accounts a stand-up guy who built himself up into a decent-enough actor, this movie is a prime example of how that sort of obligatory storyline just gets in the way of the good stuff.

Belle plays Lino, a resident of a Detroit neighborhood so bad that the city has walled it off, stopped running schools and hospitals, and let the criminals run wild; he does his best to clean up the area by interrupting the drug trade, which leads to Brick Mansions's kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA) having his ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) kidnapped. Walker, meanwhile, plays undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker), currently working to bust George the Greek (Carlo Rota) as part of his obsession with busting Tremaine, who is responsible for the death of Damien's father. He's about to get his chance; a weapon of mass destruction has been stolen and brought into the neighborhood, and the mayor (Bruce Ramsay) has tasked Damien with finding it, using Lino as a local guide.

Brick Mansions is a remake of French film District 13, also written and produced by Luc Besson and starring David Belle. Belle doesn't return because he is fluent in English (he is overdubbed by an uncredited Vin Diesel), but because he is the inventor of parkour, or "free-running", an athletic discipline all about getting from point A to point B by going over, around, or through any obstacles without breaking pace. District 13 was all about finding ways to string parkour stunts together with just enough story to justify it, so if you're going to remake it, you might as well bring back Belle. Doing so pays off right away; the movie kicks off with a terrific chase scene that maybe isn't as jaw-dropping as the similar sequences from District 13 because parkour has become a staple of action films in general since then but is still a great few minutes of David Belle doing nifty David Belle things. Besson and director Camille Delamarre don't forget what the point of these movies is, and even a lot of action that isn't parkour per se is enjoyably acrobatic.

Paul Walker gets his share of good action scenes as well. A lot of them involve cars (Besson is pretty good about matching his stars to what the audience likes seeing them do), including a pretty nifty sequence that introduces him hanging on for dear life and then scrambling inside. Everybody gets in on the fun, really - Catalina Denis may wind up pulling a fair amount of damsel-in-distress duty, but it's in large part doing to be outnumbered; she matches up reasonably well as Ayisha Issa as Tremaine's nastiest henchperson. Ex-wrestler Robert Maillet supplies the brute strength as a guy Lino and Damien will need to take down together. Aside from the cast being up for action, it's worth noting that while Delamarre is directing his first feature here, he seems to have learned valuable lessons in what not to do from working as an editor on the last couple of movies directed by Olivier Megaton - he puts together some action sequences that flow very nicely.

At least, that is, until the end, where a number of unfortunate decisions start to catch up with the filmmakers. For instance, it's kind of a shame that RZA isn't a better actor - there's probably nobody in Hollywood who likes this sort of action movie and wants to make them awesome more than he does, but he's just not able to give the movie movie what it needs. The thread connected to Damien's father pops up again, and it's ironic that this thing put into the story to give Damien a personal stake in the mission (because stopping a madman from detonating a neutron bomb in the middle of the city isn't important enough!) winds up feeling rote. It also crowds out what the original French films had to say about gentrification and diversity - District 13 and its sequel may not have made those points in a particularly subtle manner, but where the same issues show up here, it's as no more than a clumsily telegraphed plot device.

The limp finish doesn't completely undo what came before, which is mostly a fast-paced movie with a nice cast and entertaining action sequences. It's kind of funny that this remake falters in part for trying to skew a little more toward character than spectacular action, but when you've got a movie that's all about a certain sort of action, it's best not to stray too far.

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originally posted: 05/02/14 14:01:10
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User Comments

5/10/14 Toni Peluso Took out all the fun and marvel of District B13! 1 stars
5/08/14 Richard Brandt After 5 minutes watching David Belle, no one will be waiting for Walker to hit the screen 3 stars
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  25-Apr-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Sep-2014

  02-May-2014 (15)

  DVD: 09-Sep-2014

Directed by
  Camille Delamarre

Written by
  Luc Besson
  Bibi Naceri

  Paul Walker
  Robert Maillet
  Carlo Rota
  David Belle
  Bruce Ramsay

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