A superfluous rehash of a much better movie, Brick Mansions is the limp American version of the terrific 2006 French action picture District B13, which was a scrappy surprise that introduced the uninitiated to the high-flying sport of parkour and its gravity-defying founder, Gallic star David Belle. That picture was a fast and funny ticking bomb with energetic, how did they do that sequences, each topping the one before.
The new picture isn’t so special, and part of the blame lies with District B13 co-writer Luc Besson, back for round two and simply templating the first movie but for a few misguided new diversions. The result is a rote repeat, this time employing lesser director Camille Delmarre, manically shooting and cutting as if to backseat the choreography and tension.
While District B13 was set in the ghettos of Paris, the new film gives us 2018 vision of a walled, concrete Detroit jungle of only criminals and junkies—at least that’s what the mayor believes. The area in question features once tony brick mansions now inhabited by urban denizens, and the mayor wants the real estate.
Enter undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker), whose mission is to infiltrate the contained hood and bring down a drug dealer named Tremaine (RZA), who may be plotting to shoot a missile at Detroit proper.
Collier suffers from a daddy complex, his own father killed in the line of duty, and he agrees to surreptitiously enter the war zone with the help of Lino (Belle), a tattooed, parkour-prone slum resident, whose estranged girlfriend (Catalina Denis) is then kidnapped by Tremaine’s thugs (in the original picture it was his sister, but someone decided that in America we need to root for a love interest over familial bonds).
The rest of the 90-minute picture charts their misadventures, often incomprehensible, fending off goons while the clock ticks down, underscored by some heavy-handed social allusions (which seemed apropos, albeit with a lighter touch, in the first film) bordering on camp.
While Brick Mansions is one of Walker’s posthumous final roles, the film belongs to Belle, and the ruggedly handsome French star performs in English, barely breaking a sweat, repeating his signature character. But this version’s rapid-fire editing criminally diminishes the rigorous beauty of the star’s balletic, unique agility.
To accommodate Walker’s lack of expertise with martial arts, the cop character originally played by actor Cyril Raffaelli as a madman with even madder skills, here becomes the straight man to Belle’s more maniacal wild card, rendering a typical fish-out-of-water, copy buddy picture framework.
With sequences completely lifted from the first picture, one might think Brick Mansions could at least deliver a few thrills. But in the hands of first-time feature director Delmarre, the movie cruises along on auto-pilot, offering nothing new and blunting the impact of Belle’s assets.