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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 25 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 17
Absurd Brick Mansions is acrobatic Parkour Looney Tunes
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Absurd Brick Mansions is acrobatic Parkour Looney Tunes

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BRICK MANSIONS
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Sometime in the very near future, Detroit is a warzone. The worst section of town has been dubbed 'Brick Mansions,' and after an incursion by law enforcement to regain control ends in tragedy, officials take the drastic step of walling off the neighborhood from the rest of the city leaving everyone inside to fend for themselves.

Lino (David Belle) is the neighborhood vigilante, obsessed with making sure drug dealers, like the all-powerful Tremaine (RZA), lose as much money and influence as possible, considering he's just one man working on his own. Damien (Paul Walker) is a seasoned undercover cop from the city, whose father was slain trying to bring law and order back to Brick Mansions, and he's looking for a reason to infiltrate so he can see those who pulled the trigger pay.

The combination of Lino's ex-girlfriend Lola's (Catalina Denis) kidnapping and a small nuclear device being smuggled into Brick Mansions, both evils engineered by Tremaine, is what brings the neighborhood's Robin Hood and the big city's most driven cop together, the duo forging an uneasy alliance in a quest to bring this kingpin down. But nothing is what it seems and not every enemy is a foe and every ally a friend, and before Lino and Damien know it, they're suddenly faced with the realization the only people they can fully trust is one another.

Brick Mansions is a remake of the 2004 international French sensation District B13. Co-written and produced by action maestro Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita), District B13 was the initial introduction of the martial arts phenomenon known as Parkour (the art of efficiently moving through environments with only the human body as the tool), movement co-founder Belle featured in a primary role, making him an almost instant star. It was a fun, fast and incredibly loose bit of frenetic dystopian action silliness, countless movies of all shapes, sizes and stripes (including Casino Royale and Live Free or Die Hard) borrowing ideas hatched within it, presenting them in most cases as if they were their very own.

With that in mind, it does feel a little odd that it's taken a decade for a Hollywood remake to finally make its way into theatres. Also co-written and produced by Besson and directed by one of his B-movie action disciples Camille Delamarre (he edited Taken 2, Lockout, Colombiana and Transporter 3), the movie doesn't stray particularly far from the source material. If you've seen the French original, then you'll know exactly where this one is headed long before the characters themselves do, the lapses in logic more or less par for the course.

For everyone else, it's likely newcomers are buying tickets to either witness sequences of spectacular action or to see star Walker in what is tragically one of his final roles. If so, I doubt those who've entered the theatre for those reasons are likely to be disappointed. On the first front Delamarre stages sequences of adrenaline-fueled pyrotechnics with energetic glee, an eye-popping initial rooftop chase as glorious as it is giddily absurd. As for the second, while Walker doesn't do anything new or unexpected, he's still charismatically strong as the intractable and forthright Damien, understanding the mechanics of both the film and what is required of him down to the marrow.

Not that we're talking some B-grade action classic. The script was pretty silly the first time around and it is highly possible it's even more so in regards to the remake. On top of that, RZA might just be the most unimposing villain I've seen in ages, the music star and cultural icon not exactly the greatest actor of his generation, mumbling through his lines as if he's speaking with a mouth full of marbles. Delamarre has a bear of a time trying to maintain a minimal sense of continuity, keeping track of just how much time has passed between the start of the film and the explosive climax next to impossible.

Who am I kidding? As dumb as it all is - and, believe me, it's really, really stupid - the movie is a heck of a lot of fun. There are a flurry of exceptional scenes, not the least of which is a flat-out incredible bit of acrobatic derring-do involving Lino and Damien having a heck of a time trying to take down Tremaine's most imposing henchman, naturally nicknamed 'Yeti' (Robert Maillet). Belle is a natural star born from the Jackie Chan school of anything-goes lithe physical pyrotechnics, and much like the two French films in the series (District 13: Ultimatum was released in 2009) he steals the show the moment he steps into the frame.

This isn't a great movie. I'm not even sure it's a good one. But I can't say I wasn't entertained, and as inane as this remake might be, the fact it's an action effort that returns to basics and eschews computer-augmented bits of trickery for old school rock 'em-sock 'em, fists-a-flying fireworks is a major plus as far as I'm concerned. As one of Walker's final efforts, it's nothing to be ashamed of, and for those looking to have some mindless fun, but don't want to be treated as if they're brainless (even if the movie itself might be) Brick Mansions is a neighborhood worth visiting.

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