I’m gonna save you a lot of time if you want to go back to web surfing, Tweeting or Facebooking. If you’ve seen the 2004 French action film “District B13” then there is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time on BRICK MANSIONS. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you. BRICK MANSIONS is the filmic equivalent of a Big Mac, large order of fries and a large Coke and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’s all good. Turns out that I just happened to be in that mood and so, even though I’ve seen “District B13” (It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix, along with the sequel “District B13: Ultimatum”) I enjoyed BRICK MANSIONS for what it was.
In the near future, organized crime, uncontrollable violence due to gang warfare and drug dealing has turned the Detroit inner city housing project of Brick Mansions into a war zone. Unable to deal with the savagery, the authorities build a forty foot high containment wall around Brick Mansions, sealing it off from the rest of Detroit. The police set up roadblocks and checkpoints to prevent anybody from going in or out of Brick Mansions. It is controlled completely by the ganglords who rule like feudal lords over those citizens who were too poor to leave when they had the chance.
Undercover police officer Damien Collier (Paul Walker) dreams of the day when he can take down Tremaine Alexander (RZA) drug kingpin and arms dealer who is the unofficial mayor of Brick Mansions. Collier believes Alexander is responsible for his father’s death. Collier gets his chance to get close to Alexander when a genuine mission impossible is handed to him. Alexander has stolen a prototype neutron bomb that is going to detonate in 12 hours. Collier is assigned to get to the bomb and defuse it via a numeric code that will be given to him if he reaches the bomb in time.
That’s a mighty big if but Collier is given help to do his job in the form of Lino Dupree (David Belle) a man of superhuman agility and athleticism who has taken it upon himself to stop Alexander’s drug dealing on his block. Collier isn’t sure he wants Dupree’s help once he finds out that Dupree killed a cop (don’t shed any tears, he was as dirty as a Kansas City whorehouse) and Dupree isn’t happy about teaming up with a cop as he distrusts any and all authority. All that goes out the window when they find out that Alexander has bolted the bomb to a Russian missile he just happens to have lying around and has tied Lino’s girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) to the missile. Alexander wants $30 million and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to fire the missile right into downtown Detroit. From then on it’s a race against time as our heroes have to battle their way through Alexander’s limitless supply of thugs to get to that bomb before it goes off.
And that’s all there is to it. BRICK MANSIONS doesn’t waste a lot of time in setting up the situation and introducing our characters then putting them into play. This is a stripped down action movie with just enough characterization so that we understand why Collier and Dupree are doing what they’re doing and no more. Anything else we need to know, we pick up along the way.
BRICK MANSIONS is one of the movies completed by Paul Walker before his tragically untimely death and it’s by no means a demanding role but one he does effectively. He’s not trying to build a character here and actually, with a little tweaking of the script and changing his character’s name, this movie could easily have been sold a prequel to the “Fast and Furious” franchise as an adventure Brian O’Conner had before he hooked up with Dominic Toretto and his crew. That’s how similar the Collier character is to O’Conner. Walker doesn’t even try to give this guy a different look from O’Conner. In fact, Walker goes through much of the movie wearing the same three day stubble, T-shirt, jeans and sneakers I’m pretty damn sure he wore in “Fast Five” and there’s two highly contrived car chases that weren’t in the original movie that I’m positive were placed in this one solely to get Paul Walker behind the wheel.
Even though it was ten years since he starred in the original, David Belle doesn’t look as if he’s aged a day or slowed down a bit since then. Mr. Belle is one of the founders of parkour and his film work has helped to spread the art of parkour around the world. And with good reason. Watching him in motion is nothing less than breathtaking and reminds us that the best special effect in the world is the human body. In BRICK MANSIONS, David Belle recreates the opening scene in “DistrictB13” where after destroying 20 kilos of cocaine with bleach he escapes a gang of vicious thugs using parkour. Having seen the original just a couple of days ago, that scene is still fresh in my mind and it looked to me like Mr. Belle hadn’t lost a step in the recreation. The man looks as if he’s defying gravity as he leaps from rooftop to rooftop, swings from fire escape to fire escape, runs, leaps and dives in and out of windows. It’s exhilarating. But it’s too bad there’s not more it. One reason to watch “District B13” is because of the amazing parkour performed not only by David Belle but by his co-star in that movie, Cyril Raffaelli.
RZA walks away with the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” award. I give him big ups for not playing your stereotypical drug kingpin. Tremaine Alexander has unexpected depth and solid motivation for why he does what he does that pays off in the movie’s third act which seemed to me took the movie in a sudden direction wanting to become a profound statement on class in American society. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt holder Ayisha Issa starts out promisingly as what could have been a James Bond type of supervillain enforcer but ultimately disappoints with how really little she’s given to do once you stop and think about it.
So should you see BRICK MANSIONS? Let me put it to you this way: if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and you can catch a matinee, I say why not? I myself have a great affection for this type of action movie I’m glad to see has come back to theaters. Action movies with no wires, no CGI, not filmed on virtual sets and with practical effects and real stuntmen doing real stunts. So when it comes to Netflix, check it out. In the meantime, watch “District B13” You’ll enjoy it, trust me.
EuropaCorp/Warner Bros./Relativity Media
Directed by Camille Delamarre
Produced by Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh and Tucker Tooley
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen