BR: Brick Mansions (2014)

August 26, 2014 | By


BrickMansionsFilm: Weak

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label: VVS Films (Canada)

Region: A

Released:  August 26, 2014

Genre:  Action

Synopsis: A remake of the 2004 French film District 13 in which a detective and an acrobatic do-gooder attempt to rescue a babe and diffuse a guided missile inside a walled-up slum in a post-apocalyptic Detroit.

Special Features:  Featurette: “Behind-the-Scenes” (12:34) / Teaser Trailer: “Parkour Fury” (1:47) / Cast & Crew Interviews: Paul Walker + David Belle (French with English subs) + RZA + Catalina Denis + director Camille Delamarre (French only) / On Set with Paul Walker (11:00) / Bonus movie-only DVD.




Like virtually every attempt by Luc Besson to spin off a franchise, this English version of District 13 / Banlieu 13 (2004) is a fair carbon copy of the original, retaining the flaws of Besson and Bibi Naceri’s screenplay in which an opening chase showcasing Parkour – acrobatically maneuvering around fixed objects high, bare, or at precarious altitudes without any wires or safety rigging – is followed by 70 minutes of mediocrity, making what’s unofficially Paul Walker’s last complete film performance another unnecessary Besson-supervised endeavor.

Walker plays Damien, an undercover cop who accepts a dangerous mission to enter a walled-up tenement complex and retrieve a stolen Soviet missile to prevent local drug lord Tremaine (RZA) from killing the rest of better-off Detroiters. Damien’s paired with Lino, a former small-time crook / newfound do-gooder with agile building jumping skills who returns to the complex he fled to rescue girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) from being dragged by the missile into oblivion.

Besson, the once-lauded director of La Femme Nikita (1990) who has presided over EuropaCorp and produced original works, franchises, oddities, and wholly unnecessary sequels, has never understood the need to re-examine an original work and improve upon its flaws before embarking on a remake, if not go for something more dynamic for the version destined for English speaking territories.

The twist of relocating District 13‘s action from a cramped ethnic ghetto in Paris to a bankrupt Detroit is fine, but shooting in Montreal instead of Detroit is a mean cheat; even if Detroit may have seemed a risky location, why not attempt to improve the city’s local film industry by bringing jobs to its artisans instead of portraying the city as a sad, corrupt dystopian future as staged in another city?

The blending of second unit Detroit footage (reportedly shot with camera-mounted drones) and principle Montreal footage does work, but if the intention to mine the pornographic decay of Detroit’s iconic locations – namely the disintegrating Packard Automotive Plant – was always there, director Camille Delamarre bungles the job by shooting all overhead and establishing shots with rapid shutter rates.

Worse affected are the action scenes. The payoff may have been to permit fluid switching to detailed slo-mo movements of ducking, tumbling, and the after-effects of being smacked during an unedited shot, but the fast shutter rates and similarly quick cuts reduce all those weeks of martial arts and Parkour training to a fluttering wave of jagged imagery. Delamarre, a former editor, doesn’t render the action incoherent, but it’s the same problem that ruined all action scenes in Transporter 3 (2008), the Besson-produced sequel which Delamarre co-edited with Carlo Rizzo, and Lockout (2012), which Delamarre edited with Eamonn Power.

The English rewrite holds onto most of the plot points, with minor tweaks and the occasionally odd modification. In District 13, Lola (Lino’s sister) is jacked up on the drugs Lino stole from Tremaine, and she remains in a perpetual drugged-out state, chained from a dog collar to the missile, whereas the revised Lola (now Lino’s girlfriend) is drug-free, but she’s taunted by vicious lesbian enforcer Rayzah (Ayisha Issa) who spends the last third of her scenes seated in a lawn chair beside a chained Lola before a final (and rather quick) duel to the death. Tremaine’s antecedent in District 13, Taha (played by co-writer Bibi Naceri) dies and is superceded by his lieutenant K2, but Tremaine lives and runs for mayor once Detroit’s amoral leader is arrested at the end of Brick Mansions.

Everyone in the script is disposable, and the efforts to give Damien some backstory – avenging the death of his father, a cop – doesn’t deepen the character whatsoever because Besson and Naceri stick with the minimum requirements to map out a familiar heroic archetype rather than build anything memorable. Same issue with Lino / formerly Leïto, a character David Belle reprises, but a character that loses screen time and lacks any depth due to Walker’s presence. The decision to shift the focus on Walker was strategic – Belle’s not a strong actor, and he’s given the bare minimum of words – but Belle is the reason District 13 was watchable: the founder of Parkour steals the film within the first 10 minutes.

Delamarre recapitulates the same opening apartment chase, but badly, ruining the full choreography with that high frame rate and fast cuts, and the action feels truncated; in the original film’s 3 minute sequence, Belle is continually maneuvering through the smallest hole or deadliest angle, aided by a kinetic industrial music track, but there’s a sense the English backers might have wanted less danger in case Belle risked too much, shutting down an already modestly budgeted film. Either way, Delamarre transforms a sequence designed to showcase balletic movements and sharp, coherent edits with angular screen movement into a flittering mess that corrupts the meaning of Parkour: movement unaided, in person and on film, by rigs and digital trickery, respectively.

Brick Mansions isn’t awful; it’s just unnecessary and banal, and Walker’s fans will probably find more compelling material in the behind-the-scenes footage archived on VVS’s Blu-ray disc, showing the actor at ease on set, laughing, and enjoying the process of working in another action film with sexy cars and fighting seuences. Among the extras are other cast interviews including actress Denis, RZA, Belle (in French with English subs), and director Delamarre (in French, but oddly presentd without any subs).

Parkour is sort of showcased in the teaser trailer where a ninja-like team plaster Brick Mansions posters throughout Paris, but as an intro to Parkour to American audiences, it’s a total failure. The irony is that while Belle’s choreography has appeared in this disappointing franchise, the film which introduced and showcased Parkour – Yamakasi (2001) – remains unreleased in North America.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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