District B13 is one of those movies: a foreign-made film with just the right combination of factors working in its favour that it managed to cross over and do a bit of business here in North America and because of that an American remake was inevitable. If I’m surprised by any of this coming true it’s only that it took so long to happen.
Brick Mansions is trying to do two things. First it’s trying to recreate some of the most iconic moments from the original verbatim, but it’s also trying to do its own thing and tell its own story which is a good thing. Does it work though? Well… no. Not really. Which is disappointing.
Here’s the set up: Brick Mansions is the ghetto of Detroit which has become so run down and violent that rather than dealing with the socio-economic problems in the city they just built a wall around and basically ignore the district. David Belle’s Lino lives in Brick Mansions and stole some drugs from Tremaine, local drug lord played by The RZA. The theft triggers the films first action sequence and after a double cross Lino ends up in jail his girlfriend Tremaine’s captive.
Paul Walker is Damian, an undercover cop who has infiltrated Tremaines empire in an attempt to take it down. When Tremaine hijacks a neutron bomb the mayor sends Damien in along with Lino as a guide to find and defuse the bomb.
It’s not really much of a set up. In the original it’s all the film needs because the entire point of the thing is just to show off that David Belle is awesome at parkour and Cyril Rafaelli is an awesome martial artist. Strange then that the original makes more sense.
For example, in the original the damsel in distress is Lino’s sister, not his girlfriend, and she’s held captive for months before Lino the plot really gets going as opposed to the single day in the remake. Further, it’s never really explained why Lino stole the drug shipment in the first place in Brick Mansions.
You might think it unfair to compare a remake to the original but the point is this: the connective tissues that make a film go from being a collection of scenes to being a cohesive story just aren’t really there.
Another problem is with the leads. David Belle is an amazing athlete and it’s awesome to watch him jump and run and climb, Paul Walker is kind of left behind. Not that he’s a bad action guy, but he doesn’t quite keep up. Conversely, Paul Walker is a good actor who really throws his all into every performance and in that regard David Belle is left behind so in any given scene there’s something missing. Much of the time I can tell you exactly what’s missing too: David Belle’s voice. I don’t know whether his accent was too thick or just too French for American audiences but the majority of his dialogue is dubbed which is kind of infuriating.
The stand out performance here is really The RZA. He has pretty terrible dialogue to work with and can’t seem to decide if he wants to have a Jamaican accent at times but he manages to elevate above that for most of the film by appearing both intelligent and menacing as well as honorable in his own way.
That’s not really enough to save the film though. Director Camille Delamarre’s direction is up close and personal and features lot of quick cuts which makes the film feel fast and exciting, except it also means you can’t really see the action. It’s also easy to tell when it’s a stuntman doing something rather than one of our stars (which is only annoying because we know exactly what David Belle is capable of).
Bottom line? The film has a lot of potential (by virtue of its cast) which is basically entirely wasted (by virtue of bad writing, bad direction, and choppy editing). If you were thinking of seeing it you’d do well to see the original instead.