I really wanted to give Brick Mansions a fair chance at standing alone as its own film, but after exiting the theater, it’s damn near impossible. To give you an idea of how bad Brick Mansions is, comparing different themes from this remake and the original film is pretty important. One should always give a remake a fair chance, even though most of the time they are really bad, and Brick Mansions is really bad.
Brick Mansions is an American remake of the awesome French action hit District B13. I can’t tell you if it’s a shot-for-shot remake, but I can say the story is close to being the same. This time around, the location is set in Detroit in 2018. Half of the city is sectioned off by huge walls. On the grungy side, brick mansions that were once luxurious places to live are now occupied by drug dealers, thugs, the poor, vagrants, and anyone who isn’t considered upper-class. How they initially divided these people, the movie never bothers to explain.
Damien (Paul Walker) is a good cop, but still a little sore that the crime lord behind the walls, Tremaine (RZA), killed Damien’s good-cop father not too long ago. Damien gets his chance for revenge when the good ol’ mayor on the rich and luxurious side asks him to go in undercover and retrieve a giant bomb that was stolen and taken to the brick mansions. The bomb is armed and dangerous, so the mayor gives Damien the code to disarm it once he gets within finger-touching distance. If you have figured out the entire plot with what I’ve just given you, congratulations, you understand logic, which Damien unfortunately seems to lack. While on his way, he meets Lino (David Belle), and they both figure out they are after the same person. The duo team up and decide to raise some hell and save a city that is tearing itself apart. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK, it didn’t seem to make sense to anyone else, either.
Brick Mansions starts to crumble before the movie really begins. Somehow, the writers of the original film — Luc Besson (Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, co-writer of The Transporter and Taken) and Bibi Naceri — managed to screw up everything they got right the first time around. It seems as if Luc Besson believes American audiences aren’t too bright when it comes to a certain kind of white-knuckle adventure — as long as there’s some kicks and punches, some hot dudes and sexy women, nothing else matters and it’s going to sell. Maybe this formula works, but it’s an insult to the audience’s intelligence. It’s not enough to just have kicks, punches, and good-looking stars, most people like a good story to go along with them. Hey, it worked for The Matrix.
Brick Mansions is set in a dystopian future where drug dealers, killers, the poor are segregated off and given no choice but to become scavengers to survive. John Carpenter made this both believable and attractive in Escape from New York, as did Neil Marshall in Doomsday. Besson makes every gangster in Brick Mansions a buffoon, and the heroes are simultaneously too sophisticated and too stupid to make some of the mistakes they make. And it really doesn’t feel like a dystopian future. Just a bunch of gangsters trying to make a dollar in the hood.
A big detractor for American audiences will be its PG-13 rating. The rating is palatable only because of Belle, one of the founders of the martial art called “Parkour” that he uses throughout District B13. This is an extremely gorgeous practice that involves precise body movement and using surroundings to get from point A to point B in the most graceful way possible (often point B is a thug’s face). It looks really good on screen, and, of course, there’s a lot more to it, which is why you need to see District B13 — some of the things pulled off in that film will blow your mind because it’s really happening, no wires and no CGI — Jackie Chan himself would be impressed.
If Brick Mansions had focused on Belle’s use of Parkour, it would have been a blast to watch for new audiences and fans of the original. Instead, the visual spectacle parts of the film are literally cut short. Every time Lino goes for something thrilling, the angle changes, the scene cuts, which suggests he didn’t pull off the stunt in its entirety and takes us out of the film. Maybe Belle was tired, but I’m willing to bet this is a great example of some truly awful editing. Brick Mansions’ idea is to wow the audience, but instead of marveling at a profoundly mind-boggling stunt pulled off, the believable rate drops to zero thanks to it’s editing and cinematography.
Is Paul Walker right for the American remake? Absolutely. Is he right for the character? No. To be fair, no actor without a skilled level of martial arts would be. What made Damien so awesome in the original wasn’t his single-minded dedication to justice, wasn’t his funny one-liners, but instead, actor Cyril Raffaelli’s ability to almost defy physics with his unique kicks, punches and moves. District B13 was made in 2004 — if you’re still alive in 2024, give it a watch and the things he does will still leave you slack-jawed.
Walker should, however, be credited for doing the best he could with his character, he just didn’t have much to work with. At times, Damien makes odd choices for a smart and tough cop. At one point in the movie, he beats up a group of goons alone, then scenes later serves as the comic relief during a physically demanding moment. That’s just bad writing. And remember, it’s written by the same men who who wrote the original, so they know the material better than anyone.
Brick Mansions almost wins the award for Every Cliché You’ve Ever Seen In An Action Movie, Ever. There’s a very large goon named Yeti (what a shock). He’s a hairy ape who only speaks in grunts and makes faces for comedic effect. There’s a sniper who can’t hit not one, but two moving targets. The only female villain happens to be a lesbian. The only thing missing from this list — which was pretty disappointing since it got so far — was our heroes walking in slow motion as something explodes behind it. I half-expected Lino to fit in, “I’m too old for this shit” after one of his death-cheating stunts.
Brick Mansions also feels like a parody. First-time director Camille Delamarre has edited a lot of Besson’s projects (Transporter 3, Taken 2), so he should have taken a hint on what natural means, but everything seems way too staged here. Except for Walker, Belle and RZA, everyone in the film looks clueless, especially when holding a gun. It’s like Delamarre just told them to hold the weapon and look really badass, which truly does very little for the overall film.
It’s heartbreaking that Brick Mansions is the last film Paul Walker fully completed before his untimely death last year. Many of the films he starred in are wonderful — Varsity Blues, Joy Ride, Fast and Furious franchise, She’s All That, Running Scared — these are all great films to watch and a lot has to do with his involvement. He built a solid resume of films that will be watched for as long as cinema is around. It’s a pity this will not be one of them.
Knowing Walker couldn’t pull off things the original actor did, he still has a lot to offer for this character: grace, humor, and he’s fun to watch. And with Belle reprising his role, his tricks, coupled with Walker’s natural likeability, should have made them good team and this a fun movie to watch. But they never click and the movie drags on until it finally ends. If you have read the review this far, this means you are still interested in the film, and more importantly, that you can read English. I suggest you use that talent and rent District B13, turn on the English subtitles, and be amazed. You’ll be much happier with this decision.