By Linda Barnard
Special to the Advocate
Two stars (out of four)
Brick Mansions, the remake of 2004 French film District 13, finishes with an in memoriam remembrance of leading man, Paul Walker, who appears here in his final completed work.
Cartoonish and mediocre, Brick Mansions isn’t much of a eulogy for popular action star Walker, who died in November when the speeding car he was riding in crashed on an L.A. street, killing Walker and the driver.
At the time of his death, Walker was midway through making his last movie in the franchise that made him famous, Fast & Furious 7. Brothers Caleb Walker and Cody Walker will help finish the film, due out in 2015.
As with F&F, the chases in Brick Mansions are impressive, although primarily on foot, while the few scenes with Walker behind the wheel of a speeding muscle ride can’t help but illicit unnerving feelings.
District 13 was credited with helping bring the stunt-like and highly athletic moves of parkour to the big screen, thanks to co-star David Belle, who returns for Brick Mansions as Lino, an ex-con turned community hero trying to protect the residents of the largely abandoned, densely built highrise neighbourhood.
It’s now a walled city since the cops find they can’t control the gangs and drug dealers running rampant within. Hardly a novel screen concept but it helps to give the Brick Mansions project a name and a sense of isolation from the suits downtown who want to exploit the people living there.
As with the original, the script is penned by French writers Bibi Naceri and The Fifth Element’s Luc Besson and it’s hardly a work of finesse. The plot makes as many leaps in logic as the astonishingly athletic Belle does while bouncing off walls and careening off rooftops.
But nobody is stopping by Brick Mansions for anything beyond the gravity-defying action, showcased in an opening chase scene that sees Lino propel himself like a human slingshot.
He reluctantly teams with Walker’s Damien — and the feeling is mutual — an undercover cop dropped into the Brick Mansions to stop ruthless crime boss Tremaine (rapper-turned-actor RZA).
He’s a drug kingpin with a fondness for quoting Bob Marley and blowing things up. Now he’s got his hands on a neutron bomb and is using it to hold the city hostage. He ups the ante by kidnapping Lino’s sexy siren ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis).
Damien and Lino find their initial distrust leads to bonding, which spawns tandem stunts and fight scenes with random bad guys (one involving a steering wheel is impressive), although Walker can’t help but appear sluggish compared to Belle.
Director Camille Delamarre (Taken 2) relies heavily on camera trickery, speeding up and slowing down as needed to highlight jumps and stunts but in between the action scenes, tedium takes over.
Brick Mansions charges to its conclusion with an absurd storming of city hall and a shocking personality reversal in a character that makes you wonder how much filmmakers can underestimate the intelligence of an audience.
We’re left with a sense that Walker deserved better and perhaps could have done better if there had been other movies with more challenging stories ahead for him. Brick Mansions leaves his legacy caught up in the same kind of movie he’d been making for years.
Linda Barnard is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.