If you’ve seen the trailer for Brick Mansions, you should be expecting three things from the film. One, the late, great Paul Walker, who exuded enough casual charm and quiet heart to keep the Fast and Furious franchise going through some pretty rough days. Two, a showcase of Parkour, the French free-running style that allows expert practitioners to leap rooftop-to-rooftop at full sprint, or scale 10-story buildings faster than you or I could climb the stairs. Three, a cogent story involving a gangster who’s hijacked a weapon of mass destruction and threatens to destroy Detroit with it, and the cop and felon who have to team up in order to disarm it.
Well, at least it has Paul Walker, who plays the police officer, Damien. Before his untimely death in a traffic accident, Walker’s claim to fame wasn’t being a terribly dynamic actor, although he did do some nice work in Flags of Our Fathers. Instead, what he offered was perhaps the hardest thing for an actor to convey – earnestness. It’s the same reason we once bought Kevin Costner as Robin Hood – as an audience, we simply trusted him. The same went for Walker – he wasn’t a great actor, but his bright-eyed enthusiasm always made a film better. It’s a shame he won’t get to bring that charm to other films, and it’s a shame that Brick Mansions, the last film he fully completed shooting, doesn’t give us a quiet character moment or two with Damien in which to consider and appreciate that earnestness.
Not many have seen District B13, the French movie on which Brick Mansions is based. Both films involve a ghetto that’s been walled off from the rest of the city. Both involve politicians who excuse creating this lawless, artificial prison as a way to make the rest of the city safer. Both realize that, in historical terms, ghettos are something the politically powerful create only to contain those who most threaten to take away that power.
They’re both Parkour movies. Parkour’s most famous moment occurred when Daniel Craig took over the Bond franchise in Casino Royale. Where his quarry expertly climbed girders and leaped through tiny windows, Bond famously improvised an elevator and smashed through the door. If you’re still not familiar with Parkour, it’s very worth looking it up on YouTube.
Brick Mansions has some rather good Parkour, featuring co-founder of the art, David Belle. Belle plays the felon, Lino, but over-editing makes his Parkour unrecognizable. A single jump might be edited into three or four different shots. We don’t see the full choreography of any leap, and it’s the full picture – the difficulty, the twisting of anatomy, the physics-bending “how did he do that?” of Parkour that’s utterly butchered here.
As for story, I ought to be fair: the original District B13 didn’t have a very functional story either. Brick Mansions is a beat-for-beat remake, so I wouldn’t expect it to fare much better. How Mansions fails, however, is by removing any sense of real threat. There may be a neutron bomb on a rocket aimed straight at downtown Detroit, but…these gangsters are woeful. Auctioning the bomb back off to the police, gang boss Tremaine (rapper RZA) asks for $30 million. I know it’s Detroit and all, but I still felt like he needed to have the same conversation Dr. Evil had with Scott Evil about monetary inflation in Austin Powers.
Moreover, the gangsters have countless numbers of henchmen ready to give chase, but they only ever guard their most valuable assets (prisoners, the rocket itself) with a single lackey. Have the rest of the henchmen unionized? Are they on a mandated lunch break? Is Tremaine trying to save costs – is it a Sunday and he doesn’t want to pay them overtime? Why is the rocket halfway across the city anyway; why not just put it on Tremaine’s own roof, where his hundreds of henchmen are?
Is Brick Mansions good? Not really. Is it watchable? Imagine me shrugging noncommittally in response. It does have Paul Walker, though, and that really does count for something. See it if you’re a fan, but otherwise rent a Fast and Furious movie for Walker or District B13 for the Parkour. And if you’re really looking for a martial arts gangster epic, The Raid 2 might still be playing somewhere.
Brick Mansions is the scavenger’s quest of PG-13 qualifications – gunplay, action, violence, language, and some pretty needless and ham-handed sexual menace.
Watch these. They’ll ease the pain. You do any of this at home, you’re an idiot:
Parkour, like any movement style or martial art, is for everyone:
And leave it to the Russians to turn it into a meditation on facing death: