Movie Review: “Brick Mansions” Is A Good-Old Fashioned Action Flick

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Review by James McDonald

An undercover Detroit cop navigates a dangerous neighborhood that’s surrounded by a containment wall with the help of an ex-con in order to bring down a crime lord and his plot to devastate the entire city.

Set in the near future in a dystopian Detroit, “Brick Mansions” is an area of old rundown buildings and apartment complexes that have been separated from the rest of the city by a large containment wall. The territory is overrun by drug dealers, murderers and rapists who all work for crime lord, Tremaine (RZA). There is one man, Lino (David Belle) who has stood up to Tremaine and has rid his neighborhood of drugs, much to the dealers’ disdain. When they track down his ex, Lola (Catalina Denis) and hold her hostage, Lino must rescue her and try to get them both out safely. On the outside, in downtown Detroit, undercover cop Damien (Paul Walker), has spent his entire career penetrating this underground organization and has arrested or apprehended most of the key players in Tremaine’s crew, with only Tremaine left.

When Lino is caught trying to enter Brick Mansions, he is arrested and the police seize this opportunity to have Damien go in undercover where hopefully Lino will be able to lead him to Tremaine. The police inform Damien that the previous night, a security truck was hijacked by Tremaine’s guys and thinking there was money inside the large case in the back of the truck, they forced the lid open, unaware that they actually set the timer on a bomb big enough to wipe out an entire city. Damien needs to get inside, no matter what the cost and diffuse the bomb before it takes out all of Detroit. As he teams up with Lino, people that he had fought against his whole career end up being his allies while the truth about the bomb and those who actually devised it, comes to light.

“Brick Mansions” sadly, was the last film to feature Paul Walker’s completed final performance before his tragic death last November. Indeed, “Fast & Furious 7”, which will be released in 2015 has Mr. Walker in the movie but his death occurred during that movie’s production so the studio had to resort to using Mr. Walker’s brothers, who bear a striking resemblance to the late actor, to fill in for some action and driving scenes. The studio reportedly claimed that Mr. Walker completed all of his dramatic scenes before his demise so while technically “Fast & Furious 7” will be his very final movie, “Brick Mansions” is the film in which he gave his very last full performance. And it was very difficult watching the movie because every time he appeared onscreen, it was just impossible to believe that he was actually gone.

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I feel that the movie will do big business, much like “The Dark Knight” did because of Heath Ledger’s passing which is sad but inevitable. After all, this is the movie business and I think it’s more about morbid curiosity, watching a talented actor who was struck down in his prime giving his very last performance. In regards to the film, while a lot of the action is cliched, car chases, explosions, fist fights, etc., a big chunk of it is conceived utilizing Parkour, a training discipline which uses movement that was developed from military obstacle course training. This was seen before in the opening of “Casino Royale” and it is the art of getting from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible. They do this using only their bodies and their surroundings to propel themselves.

Mr. Belle, the film’s co-star, is the creator of Parkour so when you see him onscreen jumping through the air and rotating around metal pipes hundreds of feet up in the air, just know that it is him and no stunt double. This film is a remake of the 2004 film “District B13”, which had the same premise and starred Mr. Belle in the exact same role but which was made in France. This felt more like a movie that you would have seen back in the 1980s where the premise was plain and simple: get in, diffuse the bomb and get out. Of course it’s never that easy. I could easily imagine Schwarzenegger or Stallone in the title role but Mr. Walker and Mr. Belle have undeniable chemistry together and in an action movie, that’s half the battle.

On my way home from the movie, for a moment, I thought, with a grin, “Wouldn’t it have been great if John Carpenter had made this movie as “Escape from Brick Mansions” with Mr. Walker as its anti-hero Snake Plissken? Aaahhh, one can imagine. When the film eventually ended, a photo of Mr. Walker appeared onscreen accompanied by the words “In Loving Memory of Paul Walker”. The whole theatre erupted into applause at this point and it literally brought tears to my eyes. I feel that Mr. Walker was evolving as an actor, getting away from a lot of the action movies that made him famous and working on smaller, more independent films to show the world that he could do more than just shoot guns and drive fast cars. Regrettably, it was the latter which took him away from us much too soon.

In theaters April 25th

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James McDonald
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