It’s certainly a letdown when a remake trying as hard to be like its source material as Brick Mansions is trying to be – especially one with as much parkour based fighting as this one has – manages to be this dull. Camille Delamarre’s lacklustre North American updating of the 2004 Luc Besson penned French action thriller District B13 might retain one of the original’s stars but none of the ingenuity or fun. It’s a strangely self-serious affair when it should be fast, fun, and silly. It wouldn’t kill anyone involved with this project to smile and realize they are in a B-movie, but no one seems to see this project for what it is. The result is a film that sparks to life in momentary action sequences instead of commanding attention, and is a struggle to stay awake through in those lengthy periods between them.
David Belle, the stunt performer and actor generally credited with creating the climbing and jumping art of parkour, returns from appearing in the original to play Lino, a former drug runner tasked with going into the titular compound to stop a neutron bomb from being detonated by a local kingpin (RZA). It’s no longer France in 2010 where this walled up, no man’s land exists, but rather Detroit in 2018. The rules are still generally the same: Brick Mansions is off limits to even the police, left to rot in its own squalor and filth. Lino is brought into the fold and aided by Damien (the late Paul Walker), an undercover cop with former ties to the area and little fear of heading to the compound.
The original script to District B13 was poor to begin with, full of backhanded racism (a true Besson-ian trademark if there ever was one, sadly retained here almost word for word), a lack of internal logic, and plot holes so large that it looked like the bomb went off before the movie even started. What District B13 had, however, that Brick Mansions doesn’t is a director who gets that the movie is kind of silly and a bit of a joke. Pierre Morel (Taken) knew there was no way his film could have ever taken place, so he kept things moving as fast and amusingly as possible so no one was ever able to notice what was happening on a story level. It was a fun, problematic bit of nonsense that established parkour as a viable cinematic action trope.
Delamarre has none of that and he seems to be operating under the dreadful misapprehension that just because his movie takes place in Detroit instead of Europe that he must be telling some sort of satirical story about the American haves vs. the have-nots. Absolutely none of the plot of Brick Mansions remotely matters, but Delamare seems to think the world of it, instructing his actors to deadpan every scene as if their lives depended on it. Belle is handcuffed a bit by a language barrier (and he is dubbed, very badly and very painfully), but watching usually charismatic presences like Walker and RZA be forced into doing silly sequences with straight faces hurts. Even a scene where RZA references himself through a Wu Tang reference doesn’t elicit a chuckle because of how painfully forced he delivers the line. Having seen them in other films where they can actually emote and get in touch with sillier material, there’s really only Delamarre to blame for how awkward everything ends up feeling. He can’t even make something as clichéd as the timer on a bomb ticking down fun or interesting. To him, it’s just another thing that happens to shrug off.
But what really brings the problems of the film’s initial story to the surface is the fact that Delamarre is even worse at action sequences and pacing than he is with actors and storytelling. Belle still has boatloads of talent when it comes to his stunt work, but when he has to show Walker fighting it’s painfully obvious that he isn’t performing his own stunts, even the simplest of fights. He cuts around it all so badly that one can actually see punches, kicks, and flips that aren’t hitting their intended marks. He doesn’t seem to know when to speed up or slow down to make things look realistic. There’s no transitioning between sequences that seem to make much sense. Things begin and end in as perfunctory a manner as possible to just get to the next scene and just get things over with.
Yet he dwells for almost unconscionably long lengths of time on a story and dialogue heavy scenes that no one in the film’s target demographic will remotely care about. There’s a lot more wasted breath here because Delamarre can’t figure out how to make all the beats before the beatdowns interesting. There’s a love story that goes nowhere. The gradual awakening of Damien to the world around him is half-heartedly drawn out at best. RZA gets the worst of the film’s poor writing by being saddled with a character that has to be threatening one minute and kind and benevolent the next.
It’s a shame that one of Walker’s final films seems to typify the non-Fast and Furious parts of his career. Brick Mansions is a promising project on paper, and it’s easy to see the allure of signing up to do it. In execution, however, it’s a mess that would have been quickly forgotten if not for Walker’s involvement. The original is the same thing, only done better, meaning there’s really no concrete reason for this inferior retread to exist.