I can’t shake the feeling Brick Mansions got lost in translation. The film’s producer, Luc Besson, essentially remakes his script for French actioner District B13–even importing its star (and creator of the “parkour” freerunning style) David Belle into roughly the same role–moving from the immigrant neighborhoods of Paris to Detroit. With its walled-off ghetto ruled by an eccentric gang lord (RZA) and ominous hints of what Detroit’s mayor and some shady corporate types intend, there’s clear influences of Escape From New York and Robocop. Big shoes Besson’s script just can’t wear.
Even at 90 minutes (12 less than Robocop and 9 less than Escape), it saunters in its introduction of Paul Walker’s undercover cop and Belle’s anti-drugs vigilante. Plot threads only vaguely gesture at the city’s decline, misreading the current should-be-scandal of the bankruptcy (enacted under the dubious Emergency Manager Law by Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder). Aside from a sequence where Belle escapes gangsters in dashing fashion, action is also unclear. Director Camille Delamarre uses choppy edits punctuated with slow-mo, reducing parkour to a handful of QTE moves. This is unhelpful to Belle, whose stilted English and expressionless face means everything about him needs to be communicated through his running/fighting (and isn’t). Walker salvages the movie: his surfer-dude attitude and straightlaced cop philosophy sharpened since The Fast and the Furious into working class deadpan routine (a habitual “Thank you” after knocking out a sniper and stealing his rifle). He fights with blunt strikes (either his fists or any handy object) and similarly runs with a determination to just get the job done–if he can’t gracefully leap up and slip through a gap like Belle, he’ll simply plow through. If Besson chose a director who didn’t downplay Walker and Belle’s physical feats (or the toll they take), he could’ve had a stronger film.