Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Theaters: BRICK MANSIONS (2014)

(France/Canada - 2014)

Directed by Camille Delamarre.  Written by Luc Besson. Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Gouchy Boy, Catalina Denis, Ayisha Issa, Carlo Rota, Bruce Ramsay, Andreas Apergis, Frank Fontaine, Richard Zeman, Robert Maillet, Ron Lea, Mark Camacho. (PG-13, 90 mins)

The 2004 French-language Luc Besson production BANLIEUE 13 became a blockbuster hit in Europe before its 2006 US release as DISTRICT B13 (which led to the 2009 sequel DISTRICT B13: ULTIMATUM) and succeeded in both the mainstreaming of parkour and putting Besson protege and future TAKEN director Pierre Morel on the map.  Given the ubiquitousness of parkour over the subsequent years--including a memorable action sequence in 2006's 007 reboot CASINO ROYALE--it seems odd that Besson would not only fashion a belated, demanded-by-no-one English-language remake now but also that he would utilize one of BANLIEUE's stars, French parkour master David Belle, in the same role he played a decade ago. Again scripted by Besson (with regular collaborator Robert Mark Kamen credited as "artistic consultant") and directed by another in the seemingly endless line of Besson disciples--in this case, his frequent editor Camille Delamarre, making his feature directing debut--BRICK MANSIONS moves the action from the slums of Paris to a walled-off housing project in the near-future war zone of Detroit in 2018.

Brick Mansions is controlled by Tremaine (RZA), a ruthless drug lord and red pepper culinary enthusiast who's enraged over a drug shipment jacked and destroyed by Lino (Belle), a do-gooder who's lived in Brick Mansions his whole life and is sick of Tremaine and his goons running things.  Brick Mansions is under constant guard by police and military personnel, all of whom are on Tremaine's payroll, which Lino finds out the hard way when he brings Tremaine to them only to be tossed in prison himself for killing a cop in the ensuing melee.  Enter undercover Detroit narcotics detective Damien Collier (the late Paul Walker), who just nabbed high-ranking gangster George the Greek (Carlo Rota, the Canadian Stanley Tucci, playing yet another variation on his Yakavetta character from THE BOONDOCK SAINTS), and has had his eyes on Tremaine for a while:  Collier's dad was a legendary Detroit cop killed by Tremaine during a botched raid on Brick Mansions years earlier.  The mayor (Bruce Ramsay) and the top Detroit brass send Collier into Brick Mansions in classic Snake Plissken-style when Tremaine gains possession of a neutron bomb that's set to go off in ten hours.  Posing as a prisoner, Collier finds himself in a transport with Lino, who's determined to rescue his ex (Catalina Denis), who's being held captive by Tremaine, who's also demanding $30 million in his Hawaiian bank account (?) to not launch the neutron bomb right at downtown Detroit.  Amidst bickering and constant disagreement, Collier and Lino team up to take out Tremaine and his Brick Mansions army and stop the bomb from going off...

...if they don't kill each other first!

As far as empty calories entertainment goes, you could do a lot worse than BRICK MANSIONS. It moves fast and there's some entertaining action sequences when Delamarre can keep the camera somewhat still.  Yes, most of the action is of the dizzying, quick-cut shaky-cam variety, with bonus pointless stutter zooms (even with all of Belle's by-now familiar parkour antics, the highlight is Collier's extended pursuit of George the Greek). Cliches and silliness abound:  every shitbag in Detroit is a parkour expert, George the Greek acts like he's the first crime boss to use a shark tank as a ham-fisted metaphor, and it's a wonder Tremaine has any empire at all with incompetent flunkies like the hapless K2 (Gouchy Boy) and psycho-bitch Rayzah (Ayisha Issa) in his employ. Besson does take things in an unexpected--and dumber--direction than BANLIEUE in his handling of Tremaine, who faced a much different fate in the original film (that film's co-writer Bibi Naceri played the same character, then called Taha Bemamud).  Here, RZA plays Tremaine as someone equally cold-blooded as Taha, but Tremaine's eleventh-hour transformation into not just a good guy (which is what happened to K2 in the original film), but a noble hero who doesn't have to pay for his crimes reeks of fast and furious post-production revision, as if Besson wanted him along for the ride in case there's a sequel. Another decision clearly made after the fact is the distracting dubbing of many of the French and Quebecois supporting players (only some second-unit establishing shots were done in Detroit; the rest of the film was shot in Montreal).  The dubbing is most obvious with Belle, whose thick accent has been completely revoiced, making the constant references to his nationality--like calling him "Frenchy" or "French asshole"--meaningless. There's an unsubstantiated rumor making the rounds that it's Vin Diesel dubbing Belle, but as of this writing, nothing's been confirmed.

Paul Walker (1973-2013)
In his last completed role before his tragic death in a car crash in November 2013 (CGI and his two brothers serving as doubles will be used to finish his performance in FAST & FURIOUS 7, due out in April 2015), Walker is game for the intense action and his fans will certainly want to check this out.  While it's not really a stretch for him, BRICK MANSIONS provides a better showcase for the actor than recent junk like VEHICLE 19 and the unwatchable PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES. Much like the planned English-language remake of Gareth Evans' Indonesian THE RAID, a film with which BRICK MANSIONS shares some "high-rise mayhem" similarities, there's little reason to rework a foreign-language film that's not only better but was already embraced by action enthusiasts and didn't feel the need to dub over a French lead actor's performance as a French guy to ensure that he didn't sound French, a decision that fully summarizes the inherent pointlessness of BRICK MANSIONS.

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