Release: Friday, April 25, 2014
While the last film to feature a performance from Paul Walker is as dumb as a brick, there is something haunting, almost immortalizing left behind in the rubble of this, his final role.
Maybe it’s more haunting because the last major role of his is stuck in a picture as stiff and awkward as Brick Mansions, yet another failure of a script from Luc Besson. Or maybe it’s because it features Paul driving a beautiful Mustang around the ghetto of Detroit. Whatever the reason, Paul’s presence resonates very bittersweet throughout the film and gives the film at least one reason to exist. And a pretty good one, too.
But without him, it has literally none.
Camille Delamarre’s debut feature film is short, but even shorter on entertainment and logic. Apparently a remake of Luc Besson’s much-better written District B13 in which a nuclear warhead is set on destroying Paris, to be launched from the central ghetto that has been walled off by the Parisian government for years. A cop and vigilante criminal must gain access inside the dangerous ghetto and stop the threat and rescue anyone who may be trapped inside (both films make sure this is a young, attractive girl. . .because honestly, how could they not?) In 2014, Besson took that script and scrapped whatever creativity and solid writing it possessed and replaced these things with toilet paper scribblings of ideas. This version would come to be known as Brick Mansions.
In it, Paul plays good Detroit cop Damien Collier who has been supposedly Dark Knight-ing it up around the city for years, fending off escalating crime and tension stemming from the metropolis’ long-forgotten ghetto, which remains at the heart of the city. Filled with what were once beautiful brick buildings, the zone has been completely retaken by criminals, gangsters and other, shall we say, undesirables. . .and while Officer Collier is less of a vigilante than Batman, he finds himself coming face-to-face with some pretty nasty types who wish nothing but for the most harmful. . . .er, harm to befall him.
He does come across the vigilante-esque and mysterious Lino (played by David Belle, the founder of an urban free-running style known as Parkour) who, if anything, would be Robin to Paul Walker’s Batman if we really wanted to continue with this metaphor.
Lino is an ex-con who has recently been released from prison but now finds himself in a scrap with inner-city thugs who have kidnapped his girlfriend (Catalina Denis) — seriously, did Besson just copy-and-paste his old script here? Stopping at nothing to get her back apparently is going to include teaming up with Collier, who is of course initially reluctant to work with a criminal. After all, you know. . .a criminal killed his father. After an awkward stand-off the pair agree to throw themselves into the lion’s den, seeing as they both are pursuing the same man as it turns out. Collier has been tracking down the ringleader Tremaine (RZA) for many years, and Lino only recently has had cause to find him since his girl was taken.
As the presiding ‘evil’ that rules the brick mansion territory, RZA’s Tremaine is actually suitably sinister and perhaps the most intelligently spoken of any character in this film. While his worldview is not particularly original nor even really that compelling it is at the very least believable, unlike anything else the movie has to offer. Collier is a decent man but greatly lacking in personality; Walker tries his best with what he is provided, which is skimpy at best. He’s meant to be following in the shadow of his father who was killed in the line of duty, but that story is so woefully underdeveloped it barely counts as an afterthought.
David Belle is fun to watch, if only for the extensive (bordering on self-indulgent) stunt reel he puts together for the camera. His many escapades actually comprise a good portion of the running time, which truthfully saves the story from being any worse. As a character, though, Lino’s pretty asinine as well, remaining a caricature of a desperate man trying to stay out of trouble.
Brick Mansions makes great use of its grubby and grimy set — for whatever that’s worth. Filmed as though moving throughout levels in a videogame, the camera moves us in and out of intricate spaces filled with bad guys, bullets and babes pistol-whipping one another. The use of CGI is apparent but surprisingly not among the film’s failings. Despite a gritty and somewhat interesting setting, there’s far more wrong with more important components like story and character development. When it comes to actually structuring this foundation, Brick Mansions simply crumbles.
Recommendation: Admittedly a terrible last outing for Paul, it is nonetheless the last film with Paul in a completed role, and is somewhat worth seeing on that level. Brick Mansions flirts with ideas like the ideological struggle between rich and poor societal classes, something it could have sunk its teeth into more and could possibly have become an intriguing movie as a result. But this is nowhere close to being a movie with ideas, it’s perfectly content with sitting back and being a carbon copy of much better (and still generic) action flicks. Avoid this unless you are in the middle of a mission to see every Paul Walker flick (good for you, I say). Even if that’s the case, this one can probably be placed fairly low on your list.
Running Time: 90 mins.
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