Movie Review: Brick Mansions
By Matthew Huntley
April 28, 2014
Brick Mansions is a bad movie, but it’s not exactly an offensive one. It’s bad in the sense that it’s utterly goofy and somewhat dull, while its writing and acting are at the level of an amateurish cartoon or video game. Yet it remains tolerable, which is still no excuse to see it. If anyone does see it, it will likely be because it stars Paul Walker, who died young and suddenly five months prior to this film’s release. That’s a shame in and of itself, but it’s also a shame Brick Mansions was one of his final projects.
The movie is more or less a collection of stunts and action sequences meant to show off Parkour - the physical art of getting from point A to point B in the quickest way possible. And indeed it co-stars one of Parkour’s founders, David Belle, who demonstrates his skills in the opening sequence that finds him jumping, running, sliding, flipping, diving, etc. as his character attempts to escape a gang of thugs out to kill him.
But as impressive as Belle’s physicality and fitness may be in real life, the way they’re filmed, edited and shown on-screen undermines them. The post-production effects, namely the constant film speed manipulation and ceaseless cutting, make them appear artificial, thus diluting the excitement and tension. This, unfortunately, leaves the movie with little to offer.
Belle plays Lino, one of the occupants of a sectioned-off and militarized zone of Detroit called Brick Mansions, an impoverished area that has become associated with crime, drugs and violence. The year is 2018 and the gap between the rich and poor is at a staggering high. Detroit’s mayor (Bruce Ramsay) wants to clean house by tearing down Brick Mansions and setting up a new housing district exclusively for the rich, assuring the other city council members the current citizenry will be protected, though we have a sneaking suspicion he can’t be trusted.
Lino is one of the few who genuinely cares about the people of Brick Mansions and their well-being, so much that he’s willing to risk his life by stealing narcotics from the reigning drug lord, Tremain (RZA), and disposing of them in his bathtub (hence why he’s being chased down by Tremain’s goons at the beginning). Tremain has an agenda of his own and thinks he can trap Lino by kidnapping his former girlfriend (Catalina Denis) and holding her for ransom.
Another man willing to risk his life for the greater good is Damien (Walker), a police officer who’s been trying to take down Tremain for the better part of his career. For Damien, it’s personal because he holds the kingpin responsible for his father’s death.
After Tremain’s men hijack a suspicious government bomb, the mayor calls upon Damien to infiltrate Brick Mansions and disarm it, which of course means Damien and Lino will eventually team up and utilize their Parkour skills to thwart the bad guys, save the city and rescue the girl. You know the drill.
Brick Mansions is a remake of the French film District 13, which was just as preposterous, but because it was one of the first of its kind, at least as far as its Parkour elements are concerned, it felt fresh and the stunts were filmed and presented more fluidly so that we got a real sense of how much training and endurance goes into the practice. And maybe it’s just because it was spoken in French, but the goofy plot and characters were actually amusing.
This version, despite all of its high-tech stunts, is more a standard-issue action flick and feels pointless by comparison. The diluted and routine stunts unfortunately allow the one-note acting, characterizations and plot to occupy our attention and we can’t help but think this movie is nothing more than stupid, though I must confess it has one good line: “Sometimes you don’t need to be a rocket scientist; you just need a rocket.”
Yes, Brick Mansions is stupid, but it’s not terrible. Because the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, we don’t walk away from it feeling angry or annoyed; we simply walk away from it - unaffected and kind of bored. It’s sad knowing this was one of Paul Walker’s final films, but lucky for him, there probably won’t be that many people who see it, and for those who do, odds are they won’t remember it.