Article By: Dan Clark
Hollywood remaking a foreign film is far from a new phenomenon, and adaption in this manner has yielded some truly great films. We have seen such successes like Seven Samurai transformed into The Magnificent Seven, and Infernal Affairs altered into The Departed.
On the other hand, there are movies like Brick Mansions. This remake of the Luc Besson-Pierre Morel French parkour action fest District B13 has much in common with the original including plot structure, action sequences, and even shares one of the co-leads. What it lacks is energy, craftsmanship, and originality. Fans of the original have little reason to examine this new take, and those coming in fresh will also find it difficult enjoy this tired dud of an action movie.
The story takes place in near future Detroit where high crime has caused the city to be split into two distinct sections. A massive wall segregates the financially elite from the financially inept. The Brick Mansions, once a promising housing development project, are now lawless slums were drugs and gangs rule the streets. When a drug kingpin gets his hands on a nuclear bomb this once forgotten land becomes the prime focus of the police. So an undercover officer teams up with an ex-con to try to save the city that everyone else has given up on.
Paul Walker plays that undercover officer and brings his normal charm we are accustomed to seeing. Obviously it is difficult not to watch the film with a heavy heart knowing of his tragic passing. In order to give his performance and the film it’s just due you have to put that issue to the side and focus on what is in front of you. Walker has never been a person who would wow you with his acting chops, but he at least has charisma. Here he also shows he is no slouch in making the action scenes work. One particular moment has him in hand to hand combat while handcuffed to a steering wheel. He holds his own to lend a sense of believability to that moment.
His co-star David Belle comes in with a different sort of pedigree. Belle was a founder of parkour and is mostly known as a stunt coordinator and fight choreographer. He does act on occasion including the original District B13. Obviously with his familiarity with the role and background he does his part to make the action scenes work. An opening rooftop foot chase is an early indication that he has not lost a step since the original. When looking at his overall performance it is hard to give a fair assessment, because it is obvious the majority of his lines were awkwardly dubbed over. In fact the film is full of awfully edited ADR (automated dialog replacement). The inflection of people’s voices would rapidly change in the middle of a conversation for no apparent reason—just one small example of the sloppiness that was ingrained in much of the film.
Brick Mansions has so much in common with the original it is more of a carbon copy than an actual remake, which makes its failing all the more puzzling. All the parts are there—they simply did not follow the directions. Choppy editing removed any fluidity from the action set pieces. They would become disorienting to the point of confusion. An over indulgence of slow motion also added a great deal of corniness to moments meant to be jaw dropping. It is a movie simply too aware of itself, and trying way too hard to be cool. Unlike a movie like Fast and Furious that recognizes its ridiculousness, this is content on taking itself far too seriously.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that this is a remake that has come too late. At this point the original is ten years old. When it was first made parkour was still a fresh fad, and it used that style to create set-pieces that were unlike anything at the time. Since then everything from Die Hard to James Bond has taken those ideas and brought them to the populous. An 80’s muscle bound blockbuster would not work in the mid-nineties, nor would a bullet-time obsessed Matrix rip-off today. Brick Mansions is simply chasing a fad that has long run its course—and that chase is poorly edited.