Even if Detroit is a hpllowed-out, dilapidated version of its former self, at least for the foreseeable future it can serve as a modern dystopian location for all sorts of films, including BRICK MANSIONS, an American remake of the energetic and enjoyable French actions DISTRICT B13, which introduced many of us to David Belle, one of the founders of the action style known as parkour. As with the original, this film is working from a script by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri, and is nearly an identical story of corruption, social injustice and lawlessness on both sides of the financial equation.
In this version of the story, set just a few years into the future, Belle plays Lino, who is determined to clean up the drugs and related bad behaviors in a walled-off section of Detroit called Brick Mansions (referred to the housing projects inside the walls). The criminal leader running the drug trade is Tremaine (RZA), and he's out for revenge against Lino after the self-appointed crime fighter steals a great deal of heroin from him and essentially flushes it. Using his incredible acrobatics, he escapes capture, but that only forces Tremaine to set his sights on Lino's ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis), whom he kidnaps and holds onto, waiting for Lino to come get her.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the wall, undercover cop Damien Collier (the late Paul Walker, to whom the film is dedicated) is making a name for himself catching high-level drug dealers of his own, which gets him an audience with the mayor for a special assignment. Turns out Tremaine has hijacked a powerful bomb that was just passing through Brick Mansions for no good reason, and it's set to explode in less than 12 hours. City officials want Damien to sneak into the the walled-off community and disarm the bomb... or do they? Naturally, our two heroes join forces through convoluted storytelling and their shared desire to take down Tremaine.
It's actually kind of adorable to think that the makers of BRICK MANSIONS (led by first-time director Camille Delamarre, an editor on Besson-scripted and -produced films like TAKEN 2, LOCKOUT, COLOMBIANA, AND TRASNPORTER 3) actually believe anyone cares about their overblown plot, with every character trying to out-badass each other. The mission is simple: bring us as much unbelievable action as humanly possible, and it's entirely likely we'll forgive your lapses in sense and intelligence.
But BRICK MANSIONS insists on tossing in generic baddies, clichéd corrupt politicians and fairly run-of-the-mill action sequences (outside of the parkour). The cumulative effect is fairly disappointing. I'm not just saying this because this film was the last one he actually completed before his untimely demise, but Paul Walker is the obvious highlight in a film that otherwise seems like a competition for Worst Actor in an Action Movie. He brings an intensity and knowing to his character, who can't quite match Lino jump for insane jump, but still gives it a try with often disastrous results.
Most of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud awful, and scenes designed to be tense fall apart into dust before they generate any heat. I'm certainly giving the film points for continuing to give Belle a place to choreograph and execute his unique physical talents, but beyond that, there isn't much to recommend about BRICK MANSIONS aside from its obvious legacy, and maybe that's enough. It just wasn't for me. But it does make me crave Walker's final FAST & FURIOUS film even more.