Remember Max Payne? It’s the frenetic action videogame franchise that inevitably thrust Mr. Payne inside a nondescript warehouse in a banana republic where he singlehandedly wastes a small army of narco-terrorists. This is the vibe one gets with director Renny Harlin’s unrelenting action film The Bricklayer. Written by Matt Johnson, Marc Moss, Pete Travis, and Hanna Weg and based on the novel by Noah Boyd, this is an indulgent experience filled with explosions, gunplay, and an inordinate amount of killing with carpentry tools. For some, that’s all an actioner ultimately requires, but for the rest of us, though, we crave a little more — otherwise, we’d be playing the previously mentioned video game.
In all his grizzled glory, Aaron Eckhart plays Vail, the titular bricklayer. “I’m the bricklayer,” he says, introducing himself to a prospective employer. The retired CIA gun-for-hire is recruited by his former employers in the wake of the targeted killings of journalists around Europe to track down and kill Radek (Clifton Collins, Jr.), the rogue assassin behind the massacre. Along the way, Vail is accompanied by Kate (Nina Dobrev), a hotshot young analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency who is initially the ying to Vail’s yang before they inevitably combine forces against a corrupt state of affairs in Greece.
“…recruited by his former employers in the wake of the targeted killings of journalists around Europe…”
The gruff performance from Eckhart works well, especially as he plays against the younger and less cynical Dobrev. When the two of them are together is when The Bricklayer works best. Harlin wisely maximizes their time together, even if much of the writing is staid. Dobrev, best known for a slew of romantic comedies and television shows aimed at teenagers, is particularly impressive and deserves more nuanced material down the road. Kudos, though, for helping to hold together a movie (and genre more broadly) that doesn’t always reward traditional acting.
The narrative is convoluted and downright silly at times, akin to something like Threat Level Midnight, the flick Michael Scott makes in The Office. However, at the end of the day, what matters in films like The Bricklayer is the action. To help solidify my point, I challenge viewers to recant in detail what was behind the narrative of the Bourne franchise. Even though the specific story is fuzzy, everyone remembers the intense car chases and brutal fisticuffs. In this regard, the movie is marginally successful, but it’s a motion picture that definitely isn’t breaking any ground in the larger tradition of action filmmaking.
Is The Bricklayer good? Probably not. While there are plenty of bottles getting smashed over heads and propane tanks exploding, none of the fury is particularly memorable enough to make a dent for most people reared on action flicks in this vein. As much as I find Eckhart and Dobrev to be a fun duo surprisingly well-suited for a movie like this, Harlin’s action opus is just begging for a rewrite and a jolt of originality. In a world where the John Wick films and immersive action video games exist, this needs a little bit more to separate it from the pack.
"…plenty of bottles getting smashed over heads and propane tanks exploding..."