Brick Mansions

By on May 1, 2014
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You know, it’s really sad when an actor dies, period, but it’s particularly sad if the person in question is someone younger who was a really good person. In this day and age, what with all the increased media scrutiny, it’s a rare thing indeed. Paul Walker was one of those types of celebrities, by most accounts, and it’s a shame he died so young, and before he really had a chance to show his true range as an actor.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to canonize the guy, as if he were, say, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, another recent, tragic loss. Walker was more of a populist- a man of the people. He made the kind of movies that people go to see as groups, who are just looking for a good time at the movies, not “Citizen Kane” or whatever, and there’s something to be said for knowing your audience and playing to it, and Walker knew how to do that expertly.

Sure, he gave some good performances here and there. I have a soft spot for “Pleasantville”- and yes, if I’m being honest, “She’s All That”- and he was rock solid in his most high-profile critic bait type movie, “Flags of Our Fathers.” But he was much better known for his crowd pleasers, be it “Varsity Blues” or the underrated “Joyride” or his signature role in the seemingly never-ending “Fast & the Furious” movies, which he died while in the production of the latest in the franchise, doing what he loved: driving fast cars.

There’s something to be said for doing what you love, even if it isn’t the sort of thing that gets you awards. So, I won’t overplay my hand, or go easy on his latest, “Brick Mansions,” but I will say that good guys seem far and few in between in Hollywood, and he seemed like one of them, so he will be missed.

“Brick Mansions” was Walker’s last completed film- his brother will help to finish the final one, the seventh installment (!) of “Fast & the Furious.” As such, it’s a bit bittersweet knowing that going in, and it can’t help but inform the viewing experience on the whole, which is too bad.

Parkour co-founder David Belle and the late Paul Walker get thier action on in "Brick Mansions." Photo courtesy of imdb.com

Parkour co-founder David Belle and the late Paul Walker get their action on in “Brick Mansions.”                                                    Photo courtesy of imdb.com

Though it might have been nice for him to go out on more of a high point, “Brick Mansions” is, sadly, a bit of a standard action flick with a few new wrinkles, the most obvious of which is the infusion of Parkour, which is the method of getting to where you want to go in the most efficient and quickest way possible, often while running through an obstacle course-style scenario. It was developed via military training, and became a thing in the late 90s or so before spreading to more commercial avenues like television and film.

The scenes with co-star David Belle, a French choreographer and stunt coordinator, who also just so happens to be one of the founders of Parkour itself, are riveting and fun to watch, as he expertly assesses his surroundings and finds a path around any and all obstacles, even if it means taking his own life in his hands. Or feet, as it were. Belle walks up walls, jumps through windows from adjacent buildings, and generally hops around like the human version of Frogger. Whenever Belle is on the screen doing stunts, the film works like gangbusters.

Alas, most of the movie is virtually plot-less. It all revolves around the titular “Brick Mansions,” aka Detroit, which seems to be the go-to place for a hardened Dystopian future lately, see also “Robocop” and the short-lived television show “Low Winter Sun.” Here, Detroit sort of functions like New York City in “Escape From New York,” as does the plot. Detroit is now a prison of sorts, with overpopulation of prisons leading to it having become an ad-hoc home for various criminals, with checkpoints to get in or out, for those who can leave. The leading drug kingpin is Tremaine, played by RZA, of Wu-Tang Clan fame, who high-jacks a bomb, and kidnaps Belle’s character’s girlfriend and holds them both for hostage. It’s naturally up to undercover cop Walker and Belle to save the day by infiltrating Tremaine’s lair and retrieving the bomb and the girl. That’s about it.

Granted, it’s not like most action movies are rocket science and this is no exception. The plot, such as it is, is really just an excuse for Belle to run wild in the streets of Detroit, and for a few reasonably entertaining action set-pieces involving Walker’s forte of vehicle chases. The film is actually a remake of Belle’s own “District 13,” a French film co-scripted by action movie regular Luc Besson, of “Taken,” “Nikita” and “The Professional” fame, who serves in the same capacity here, with Camille Delamarre in the director’s chair.

It’s nothing spectacular on the whole, and more of a rental than a must-see in theaters, where you can watch and rewind the action scenes in all their glory and splendor. But it’s also Walker’s forte, and he wears it well, so if you’re a fan, you might want to check it out. I can’t in good faith go higher than a C+ for this one, but the action certainly gets an A+, so there’s that. “Brick Mansions” isn’t anything special, but it does what it sets out to do, I suppose, and that will have to do, I guess.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
 
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