Directed by: Camille Delamarre
Premise: A remake of the French film District B13. Set in the near future, a housing project in Detroit has been quarantined and is overrun by drug dealers and gangsters. When a weapon of mass destruction is lost and armed inside the project, an undercover cop (Paul Walker) and a virtuous ex-con (David Belle) join forces to disarm the bomb and take down a crime lord (RZA).
What Works: Brick Mansions was directed by Camille Delamarre and produced and co-written by Luc Besson. These two had collaborated previously on movies like Transporter 3, Colombiana, and Taken 2 and Brick Mansions is consistent with those movies. It has the same style, repeats many of the same motifs of honor and revenge, incudes a fair amount of humor, and generally privileges action over narrative coherence. Director Delamarre’s previous experience is primarily in editing and it shows in the brisk pace of the movie. Actor David Belle plays a resident of the housing project who is fighting to undermine the local crime kingpin and Belle is perhaps best known as one of the founders of Parkour, a training discipline in which people run and jump through their environments by curling, bending, and ducking. The filmmakers put Belle’s talents to good use and the movie has some really fun chase sequences and outlandish fight scenes. The other lead of Brick Mansions is Paul Walker in his last completed performance. The role is nothing special for Walker; he seemed to specialize in playing undercover cops who get in too deep and this is virtually the same part he played in the Fast and the Furious movies, but he is competent in the role and Walker exhibits a little more humor in Brick Mansions than in most of his other performances. The premise of Brick Mansions is a familiar one, recalling movies like Escape from New York and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but the filmmakers add a political dimension that is surprising. The movie suggests itself as a parable about the haves and have-nots and although the political aspects are not at all deep or even that insightful the fact that they are there gives the film an extra layer of intelligence that distinguishes the picture from so many others like it.
What Doesn’t: Although the socio-economic subtext of Brick Mansions gives it some thematic heft and even good will, a lot of that is undercut by the troubling racial politics of this film. The movie includes a diverse cast but there is no getting around the fact that the movie is about two white heroes who travel into a housing project in which virtually everyone is a gun toting, gangbanging black man. The filmmakers are not shy about this and they make obvious use of the fear of blackness, and particularly the fear of black men and women as sexual assailants. There is no understating the ugliness of this imagery and as the two heroes go about cleaning up the town, shooting and beating black men into submission, the picture recalls the equally troubling movies of an earlier time like Death Wish 4 and Tomahawk Trail. The very end of the picture tries to undo this by reversing the racial cliches. But instead of subverting this imagery, the ending of Brick Mansions comes across ridiculous as characters who were previously waving guns in each other’s faces are now happy neighbors and the villains who were depicted as murders and drug dealers are instantly transformed into good citizens. It’s a well-intentioned attempt but it never reverses the momentum of the film. The villains of Brick Mansions are led by a crime lord played by former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA and the actor is terrible in the movie. His line delivery is awful, he is never threatening, and whenever he tries to give the hundred yard stare he just looks confused.
Bottom Line: The filmmakers of Brick Mansions try to do something provocative but they make a pig’s ear out of their politics. The movie is serviceable as an action adventure but enjoying it requires the viewer to ignore the pervasive use of racist imagery. Whether we should let that imagery go for the sake of entertainment is debatable.
Episode: #489 (May 4, 2014)