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It’s impossible to not acknowledge that BRICK MANSIONS is Paul Walker’s last completed film. It’s also impossible to not be wistful that this remake of DISTRICT B-13, a darn fine film, isn’t a better effort. While the original, also co-written by co-producer Luc Besson had a sharper political slant that included official corruption and rampant racism, this tame re-make emphasizes action, with its smartest choices being casting Walker’s star power, and re-casting David Belle in essentially the same role.
Walker is Damien, an undercover cop sent into the eponymous housing development to save the failing city of Detroit from a neutron bomb that has fallen into the hands of Tremaine (RZA), the gangsta ruler of the area since it was walled up by the authorities in a desperate attempt to contain the criminal element there. Belle is Lino, the Brick Mansions resident out to clean up the place from within, which, unfortunately for him and his ex-girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis), has ticked off Tremaine, and with violent repercussions.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a well-made action flick, even one that has lost its political edge in translation. There is, however, little right with one that insists on having both the cops and the crooks be dumber than a sack of cat litter, and further insists on staging uninspired car chases, and fight scenes that are barely going through the motions. That is unless Belle is involved. He is the man who invented Parkour, that puckish way of making the world an acrobat’s plaything. When he is back-flipping through a van window or leaping with an impudent abandon over and around the bad guy, rappelling off walls and hurtling through windows from dizzying heights, he is a thing of graceful yet macho beauty. While Walker’s piercing blue eyes and casual machismo is a fine match in the visual department, forcing a direct comparison when it comes to this sort of physicality is not a fair fight. They do, however, manage to salvage a few fragments of fun from an otherwise plastic script overflowing with thuddingly dull dialogue and even more thuddingly banal plot points and characters.
Even Ayisha Issa as a gangsta chick with a fetish for razors and the sartorial instincts of a Frazetta illustration fails to ignite the sort of Sapphic tension her catfight with Denis obviously intended. There is more eroticism in the way RZA chops red peppers, the which he does more than once and while wearing a smartly tailored vest and suit pants highlighted with a spiffy, and wonderfully color-coordinated pocket square.
BRICK MANSIONS is almost worth the price of admission just to see Belle soar through the air on the big screen, but a better use of your time would be finding yourself a copy of DISTRICT B-13. Big screen, small screen, this guy is dazzling.