Cars rev, bodies fly and fists smash faces in “Brick Mansions,” the American remake of Luc Besson’s 2004 French-language “District B13.”
Set in a near dystopian future, crime-ridden downtown Detroit is surrounded by a containment wall cordoned off by police to prevent traffic either in or out. Once home to luxury hotels and restaurants frequented by auto-industry elite, city fathers closed the area off behind a 20-foot wall, suspending public services such as schools, hospitals and law enforcement after the district decayed and became crime-ridden.
Then undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker), along with Brick Mansions’ ex-resident-turned-prison-inmate Lino (David Belle), are forced to make their way inside the wall to locate and deactivate a missile aimed at greater Detroit.
Though the film is mainly known as Paul Walker’s penultimate performance, what’s best about it is David Belle, the 41-year-old Frenchman who reprises his role from the original French version. Belle is an appealing presence and is among the founders of parkour, a discipline focused on quickly propelling the unaided human body through multistoried levels of an urban environment.
Belle’s character goes along for the ride with undercover cop Collier because Lino’s sister is being held hostage by Brick Mansions’ de facto king, crime boss Tremaine Alexander (RZA). Planning to auction off the missile, Alexander allows his henchmen to run any number of rackets inside Brick Mansions while Alexander himself whips up gourmet feasts.
Much as the fresh produce at Alexander’s disposal seems incongruous, so does the district’s lack of garbage, prostitutes and decomposing bodies. Unlike “Escape From New York,” the movie’s surprisingly orderly sets might as well be part of the Disney back lot, along with its residents, who appear healthy and fashionably clothed. The district’s most noticeable deficit are rows of clean but dilapidated mansions and apartment buildings.
With the entire city under martial law, the mayor (Bruce Ramsay) and his cronies cook up a shady redevelopment scheme that involves ridding Detroit of the Brick Mansions zone.
A long opening sequence depicts unarmed Lino evading dozens of Alexander’s underlings by bouncing off walls, ceilings, roofs and any handy doorway, punctuated by the thuds and groans that accompany brief martial arts beat downs. Unable to keep up with Belle’s parkour, Paul Walker, switching gears from the “Fast and Furious” franchise to all-around action star (prior to his untimely death in a tragic automobile accident), remains likable mainly because he doesn’t take the role seriously.
How could he? The film’s loose-fitting plot is entirely ludicrous, while cheesy dialogue is tasked with moving this live-action cartoon along. Lino’s superb parkour aside, the film’s over-edited fight scenes and choppy action will have you reaching for the Excedrin.