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Brick Mansions

April 25, 2014
Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions, the Canadian remake of 2004’s French parkour-heavy film Banlieue 13, tries to jump clear across the Atlantic, and doesn’t quite make it. I know that they speak French half the time in Canada, but it seems like something got lost in translation; Luc Besson must have intended this story as a joke or a parody of some sort, but Camille Delamarre plays it all too awkwardly straight for his first feature in the director’s chair. There’s just too many moving parts for it to be taken seriously.

In the not-too-distant future, the Brick Mansions housing project in Detroit has been walled off from the rest of the city; a gated community, but this time intended to keep Those People inside. Inside the walls it’s run by kingpins like Tremaine Alexander (RZA), but there are pockets of resistance, such as Lino Dupree (parkourist David Belle, recapping the corresponding part from the original). And then there’s Damien Collier (Paul Walker), an undercover cop working on the outside to cut off Tremaine’s supply before going after Tremaine himself for killing his father in the incident that led to the wall going up in the first place.

A full thirty of the film’s ninety minutes are spent running around — often literally — putting the pieces in place for the actual story, which by that point almost feels like an afterthought. Tremaine sends his lieutenants K2 (Gouchy Boy) and Rayzah (Ayisha Issa) to kidnap Lino’s girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis). Lino fails to rescue her, and in the process he kills a corrupt cop, putting him in jail outside. Damien takes out wealthy source George the Greek (Carlo Rota), catching the establishment’s eye. So when Tremaine’s crew steals and accidentally arms a neutron bomb — oh yeah, somehow Tremaine works as an international arms smuggler from inside the walled-off district — they choose Damien to go back undercover, enlist Lino’s aid with some outrageously unnecessary subterfuge, and head inside to find and disarm the bomb.

Pretty much every scene is completely ridiculous. Lino is able to hold Tremaine’s army at bay with a gun to their leader’s head, but a minute later they’re perfectly willing to blast at the car Tremaine is in with a .50 caliber gun, regardless of his safety. The assault on George the Greek makes no strategic sense whatsoever. Even the climactic twist loses all its impact and suspense because the movie’s very first scene shows the mayor promising to liquidate the ghetto to provide living space for a richer Detroit. Besson isn’t that stupid; this must be intended as a send-up.

Of course it doesn’t have to matter; plenty of fun movies are just thin excuses to get from one action set-piece to another, but even those are giant flops here. If I didn’t already know that Belle was literally one of the founders of parkour as we know it today the editing would convince me that he couldn’t actually pull off these moves. Every single one is sliced and diced into at least three shots, making it look like the different parts were filmed separately and the whole stunt was assembled in the cutting room. It’s underwhelming on screen, and an insult to Belle’s talent. Delamarre’s background as an editor himself should have at least helped this aspect of the movie look good, but he’s just as much a disappointment here as in the rest.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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