Each action film aims to be more intense than those that came before it. These films feed off of car chases, gun battles, hand-to-hand combat, and explosions. Even though action flicks need to find some form of a plot in order to carry it, they usually don't bother with it very much. For some viewers, that's just fine, since they just want to be transported to an intense world of stunts. The original French film District B13 and its sequel are enjoyably over-the-top in their nature. With an American remake titled Brick Mansions being released, it isn't too out-of-the-box to focus more on the "parkour," but there's still a lot of action. Will this flick be able to successfully pull it off?
A few years in the future, Detroit has been walled off from the rest of society. The hospitals, schools, and police buildings have been removed, creating a city filled with crime and drugs. Damien (Paul Walker) is an undercover cop who is being assigned a dangerous task in the neighborhood. He's forced to team up with an ex-con, Lino (David Belle), in order to succeed in his mission and get his revenge on crime lord Tremaine (RZA), and destroy his plot to devastate the entire city.
Some remakes will utilize the general gist of the plot, while others will completely copy it. Brick Mansions is one of those copies that doesn't make very many attempts to be very different when it comes to the screenplay. The screenplay supports the idea that this is surely a B-movie. While the concept itself allows for the possibility of some fun to be had, there isn't any other form of positive encouragement here. Rather than simply focusing on Damien fighting to defuse Tremaine's plot, there is a heavy-handed revenge element that's even a bit too much for an action flick. We're constantly being reminded of Damien's desire for revenge, due to the loss of a loved one. Meanwhile, Lino's motivations are to ensure his ex-girlfriend's safety, as Tremaine kidnaps her in order to get his attention. In the original, I remember more stress being placed on the crime lord's plot, rather than on the revenge notes. Since we know even less about Damien's loved one and Lino's ex-girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis), it's difficult to care very much for them.
Even though Tremaine is your stereotypical bad guy, he has a certain element about him that certainly aids the film through the second half of the picture. While he will randomly kill one of his own employees, he's more of a political antagonist, rather than an idiotic drug lord. This role is still filled with clichés, but at least he's a step up from the mindless antagonist that he could have been. Running at only 90 minutes, Brick Mansions rushes through pretty much everything. I wouldn't have an issue with this, if everything didn't feel so unintentionally cheesy. The original seemed to embrace this tackiness, while director Camille Delamarre's picture doesn't always hold true to this. Sometimes, he appears to be going for a more serious tone, which simply doesn't work at all. When the film takes some of its more ridiculous steps, you are sure to hear a lot of laughs in the theater. How many of them are actually intentional? Not many.
You might think that I'm reading too far into this action movie. The screenplay doesn't need to be very good, but it should be able to support the picture's tone. Brick Mansions never seems to truly know when it should be serious, and when it should simply be a fun popcorn flick. This criticism holds true for nearly every aspect of the motion picture. Everything about the execution feels indecisive, making for an ineffective ride. When it comes to this genre, the execution is an element that can instantly cause the film to succeed or fail. If Brick Mansions truly embraced its tacky nature, then perhaps this could have worked better. However, it just feels like one giant mess of concepts stolen from the original that simply weren't carried out as well.
With the incredibly unfortunate passing of Paul Walker, this is his final completed motion picture. Brick Mansions proves that he always had a difficult time portraying characters, but he most certainly carries a certain charm that makes us enjoy watching him on screen. David Belle has returned from the original District B13 to reclaim his character once again. His portrayal of Lino works, and it should, since this isn't his first time in the role. I was incredibly hesitant about the casting choice of RZA playing Tremaine. He has shown his inability to act before, so my expectations were incredibly low here. However, he actually works reasonably well as the crime lord in Brick Mansions. It isn't anything to write home about, but he successfully portrays the role.
Even though Damien and Lino are great fighters, they have completely different techniques. Damien is a bit more of a brute force, while Lino utilizes his parkour skills in his fighting. This makes him incredibly evasive and difficult to actually hit. While these stunts had the potential to be quite awesome, director Camille Delamarre absolutely ruined it with his use of quick cuts. Similar to many other films in the genre, it's difficult to ever see what's going on. There are so many wasted stunts, since we only get to enjoy them for extremely brief moments. There are a lot of fights and gun battles, yet the PG-13 styled violence is a huge disappointment. What's the point of a brutal action flick if you're just going to cut out all of the actual violence? This is an issue that irritated me throughout the film's running time.
With all of that said, Brick Mansions is a fairly big mess. This is essentially a sloppy remake of the French action film District B13. Instead of embracing its over-the-top comic style, it makes far too many attempts to be taken seriously. When we get the chance to see Damien and Lino fight several rounds of bad guys, the PG-13 styled violence and the quick cuts make for a generic display of a B-movie that simply doesn't understand what it is. This confusion leaves the audience feeling drained and irritated, rather than energetic and excited. Perhaps this is a film that would have best been left as a 2004 foreign action film. Brick Mansions is a confused action flick that fails to embrace its true nature. Skip it.