Parkour: The Movie. Paul Walker, David Belle and RZA star in the 2004 French film remake, Brick Mansions.
Director – Camille Delamarre
Screenplay – Luc Besson
Based on the screenplay District 13 by Luc Besson & Bibi Naceri
Producer – Luc Besson, Claude Leger & Jonathan Vanger
Rated PG-13 for frenetic gunplay, violence and action throughout, language, sexual menace and drug material
In the not-so-distant future, Detroit, ravaged by crime and poverty (must be a documentary). Downtown Detroit is ruled by the city government, whereas the once prestigious, now walled-off, Brick Mansions section is now run by drug kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA) and the most dangerous criminals in the area.
Remember, Tremaine don’t do anxious… he causes anxious.
Meanwhile undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker) has teams up with ex-con Lino Dupree (David Belle) to take down Tremaine, who has a rocket missile aimed at the city. Damien wants to avenge the death of his father and Lino wants to rescue his girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis), who’s been kidnapped as leverage by Tremaine.
Like films such as The Crow (Brandon Lee), Wagons East! (John Candy) and The Dark Knight (Heath Ledger), much of the press about Brick Mansions has revolved around its posthumous star, Paul Walker, who was killed in a car accident last November during Thanksgiving weekend. Contrary to what some might think, I was kinda looking forward to this. Firstly, ’cause Walker, despite not having a stellar career, was a standup, respectable actor who deserves a good curtain call (actually, Fast & Furious 7 in 2015 will be his last). Secondly, after having my world shattered by the utterly disappointing Transcendence, I was simply in the mood for a dumb yet fun action film.
Well, this isn’t it.
Based on the original French action film (which was ironically well-received more in America than in France) District 13, written by Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, the Transporter and Taken films), Brick Mansions has Besson, once again, returning to write the American remake, with his editor Camille Delamarre taking over the reigns as director. The plot is as cheesy as you can get, and the acting is what you expect in a straight-to-DVD type film that somehow managed to get a theatrical release. You don’t go to these types of movies though for story and acting. You want action scenes and a good scene-chewing villain.
And, yet, you get neither.
Stuntman/French actor David Belle, who looks like a poor-man’s Justin Verlander (which might explain why he pitched like crap in the 2012 World Series, but serves the Tigers right for stealing Cabrera from the Marlins… I digress, though), returns for the remake, and you can tell he has immense talent in the area of stunt and fight choreography. He’s one of the founders of Parkour. However, his talent is so extremely underutilized by the choppy and frenetic editing that it’s hard to appreciate or find any excitement in the talent he possesses. It’s like Delamarre thought Belle’s talent wasn’t enough to film around, so they’d employ the good ole sloooooooooooowwwwwwww ddddoooooooowwwwnnnn theeeen speeeed baaaack up technique – like we saw in the tour de force that is The Legend of Hercules – to make it interesting. It’s not interesting, even in the slightest; in fact, it distracts from what could’ve been fun and exciting onscreen action choreography.
His line overdubbing doesn’t help matters either.
RZA’s the third highest billed actor here, which should tell you the quality of movie you’re in for. I’m not saying I sat in my seat wondering, “How come they couldn’t get a Christoph Waltz or Denzel Washington to play the villain?”, but RZA can’t act and he’s not, in any way, intimidating. We automatically know he’s the villain when we first see him, though, ’cause he’s always precisely chopping vegetables for his gourmet recipe. He must’ve learned it from the school of Hannibal Lecter. It’s a performance that borders on laughable, and maybe if he spent less time “causing anxiety” and more time practicing how to be convincingly menacing it could’ve been better. I’d like to think even with a budget of $28 million, they could’ve afforded an actor with at least some decent scene-chewing chops.
Also, movies like Brick Mansions are a testament to why a filmmaker should never underestimate how clearly evident an extra can appear when they are acting horribly.
As for Paul Walker, he’s the best performance out of them all here. It might seem that way, but I don’t say that mockingly. It’s not as good of a performance like the one he gave last winter in the flawed yet serviceable film Hours, but he still tries his hardest to make do of what he has to work with. Although never a fan of his movies, he loved doing what he did and knew his role within film, and that’s something I could always respect about him.
I will admit, it was kinda amusing – thanks to Besson’s writing filled with plot inconsistencies galore – to see Damien Collier, a man who it’s made clear is not the action choreographed artist Lino is, all of sudden duplicate exactly what Lino is able to do. Collier’s supposed to be this guy that’s immediately in awe of what Lino is capable of doing, yet the moment he says “Backflip?” to Lino, he instantly turns into Obi-Wan Kenobi, bouncing and flipping around Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.
Like with Hours, it’d be disingenuous of me to say this is a great movie simply ’cause of Paul Walker. It’s not. Far from it. Walker does what he can and Belle has amazing potential as a stunt artist here in America, but Delamarre’s sloppy direction, Christophe Collette and Arthur Tarnowski’s messy editing, RZA’s lame villain, and Besson’s story tone – which doesn’t know whether to be serious or goofy at times – take what could’ve been a self-aware, dumb yet fun action film similar to Shoot ‘Em Up and turn it into something forgettable.
I give Brick Mansions a D (★).