Weekend at the Movies – Brick Mansions
Although Fast and Furious 7 may have the bigger audience draw, this weekend had the distinction of premiering Paul Walker’s final completed film, a parkour-heavy Luc Besson action romp, with Walker playing yet another undercover cop.
In Brick Mansions, Detroit three years from now has gone to hell (well, more to hell), leading to the construction of a high wall around the lawless district of Brick Mansions. Cop Damien Collier (Walker) has an axe to grind with Tremaine (RZA), the soldier-turned-drug-kingpin who rules within the ghetto, so when Tremaine steals a military neutron bomb, he’s more than happy to go in and defuse the situation. There, he crosses paths (and purposes) with Lino (David Belle), a well-meaning rogue who wants to clean up his city.
The Savage Take
Brick Mansions is the sort of film that doesn’t have time for logic. Sure, we have a rushed plot: characters are suddenly privy to information they logically shouldn’t be but for the sake of convenience and bad guys become good guys faster than you can say, “Huh?” But then, no one goes to a film like this expecting a compelling script.
What we have instead is a fun beat ‘em up movie with no need to be anything else. Every moment not spent parkouring and/or punching is spent setting up the next action sequence. They aren’t quite as exciting as this film’s trailers promised, but they still manage to be creative and gratifying, even if the lead-up to them rarely makes sense.
It’s almost like watching someone play an old arcade action game. The story is just there to facilitate more brawls.
Brick Mansions isn't great, but it's never boring.
If I have one complaint about the action, it’s that pairing Paul Walker with David Belle—one of the progenitors of parkour—leaves something to be desired. In a film like Shanghai Noon, pairing a martial arts master (Jackie Chan) with a clumsy comedian (Owen Wilson) made for a fun juxtaposition.
Here, we’re watching a guy best known for driving angrily try to keep up with an expert in his natural environment. It just feels a little awkward. If the film had been longer, perhaps this contrast could have been addressed and even mined for some comedic value. Instead, we’re expected to believe that Walker is capable of keeping up with Belle.
Brick Mansions isn’t great, but it’s never boring. The dialogue is terrible and it’s obvious that little thought went into the plot, but fans of action fans will appreciate director Camille Delamarre’s undeniable talent for staging fights. Delamarre and producer/co-writer Luc Besson’s work behind the camera makes this film feel much better than it really is, which is quite an accomplishment.
The Courteous Rejoinder
What did I just see? If there’s any one question I don’t want to find myself asking after I’ve walked out of the cinema, that’s it. I know I went in expecting an action movie, but… Savage is right: I couldn't care less about logic in a film like this. What I do care about is internal consistency, a clear and purposeful vision, and that’s one thing Brick Mansions is missing in a big way.
You’d be forgiven, if you only watched the first half hour of the film, for believing that Brick Mansions was an action revenge-thriller, complete with embittered cop looking for justice outside the traditional bounds of the law. Watch the last fifteen minutes, and you’d think it was a the-people-are-rising-up call to social justice against the oppressive political machine.
Anywhere in the middle forty-five? (Yes, the film runs a trim 90 minutes flat.) It might be a pure parkour action romp, or it might be a buddy action comedy in the vein of Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, or even Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Brick Mansion lacks internal consistency or a clear and purposeful vision.
Each one of those genres, used coherently throughout the film, might have made for a good movie. But the mish-mashed whole undermines the individual parts. Laughing at pure comedy moments felt forced after we’d been inundated with stirring calls for justice and revenge.
The weird “everyone bad is good” ending not only comes right out of left field—thus capturing our attention about as well as the average left-fielder—but also leads to one of the most unnerving “happy” ending sequences I’ve ever seen, one that may very well underscore some of the film’s racist undertones rather than inverting them (as I believe was the intention).
All I can hope for is that Fast and Furious 7 will be a much better memoriam for Paul Walker than this stinker.
Where Do We Go From Here?
S: If I have a favorite Luc Besson action film, it’s Léon: The Professional. It’s a movie with a lot of heart and one of the best action climaxes you’ll ever see. For a nearly flawless action comedy, check out The Other Guys.