Brick Mansions is a complete surprise. I had no prior knowledge of it going in (didn’t know it was a remake of the French film, District 13), and decided to finally see it when one of the trailers managed to grab my attention. I had completely expected generic action, maybe some cool guy lines from the late Paul Walker, and maybe it’d be fun.
What I didn’t expect was how much fun I’d have. It’s grandiose, silly, but most importantly, it never once loses an ounce of sincerity. Brick Mansions is stacked, and that’s a fact. Ain’t holding nothing back.
Director: Camille Delamarre
Release Date: April 25, 2014
Brick Mansions is the story of the titular Brick Mansions, a housing project that’s been walled off from the rest of Detroit. As all the government buildings in the area (schools, hospitals) have been shut down, Tremaine (RZA) and his drug and weapon ring have taken over. Tired of the route his home has taken, Lino (David Belle) has begun a one-man parkour war against the drug kingpin. Also Damien (Paul Walker), an undercover cop (who’s cover is hilariously broken five minutes into his job) who has vowed revenge against Tremaine, is there. The two then find themselves in a mission to stop a neutron bomb from blowing up Detroit. Really.
But that’s where the fun of Mansions truly lies. It amps up the insanity fairly quickly, and when you think you’ve caught up, it amps up some more. The film starts with a five minute shirtless parkour chase scene (showing off David Belle’s fabulous talents) that ends with him jumping off a building in order to escape from an explosion. How you decide to absorb that scene will determine how you react to the rest of the film. Mansions‘ most unfortunate quality is that it’s extremely divisive. If you’re thrown off by the tone of one or two scenes, you won’t be able to recover.
Thanks to a script by Luc Besson, there’s a hefty amount of serviceable (and practically done) stunts, but Mansions suffers when someone isn’t running from someone else. You just kind of have to accept some things to get back to the fun. Brick Mansions should for all intents and purposes be a critically bad film. It’s full of bad dialogue, and bad acting, but every now and then a diamond appears in the rough. For every “I need a stronger gun” that’s delivered in the most wooden way possible, there’s a “Move, bitch!” that’s sort of perfect. Mansions ventures into “so bad it’s good” territory without falling into the standard pitfalls of the genre.
You see, my main issue with declaring a film is “so bad it’s good” is the cynicism at the core of the statement. You get a film that’s bad, but you’re finding holes in it and harshly laughing at it. But that doesn’t occur with Mansions, in fact most of the fun you’ll have with the film is due to its sincerity. You’re never laughing at how dumb something may seem, but the fact that Mansions attempts it in the first place with a straight face. For example Paul Walker isn’t as mobile as his co-star, so his scenes are notably less fast paced. But in order to make up for his lack of movement, you get goofy set pieces like having Damien fight with a steering wheel or next to a fish tank. It all just kind of works out. And RZA stands out for the wrong reason. You can tell he’s trying hard (and it’s an appreciable effort), but he’s just not an actor.
One of the bigger things I feel I have to mention here is while Brick Mansions is a remake of the French film, District 13, unlike other remakes it practically copies and pastes the original’s plot, setting, and weirdness (even going as far as having David Belle star). While I’m praising Mansions’ goofiness, I don’t really know how much of that is original or is ripped from the remake. But for most, that won’t be an issue. I’ve never seen the original, and I fell in love with Brick Mansions.
Because when Brick Mansions goes goofy with its premise, it hilariously (and entertainingly) goes all the way. When you accept the setting makes no sense (a walled off Detroit filled with cars featuring French license plates), and it’s filled with awful Black stereotypes, you don’t really care that there’s a bomb plot. In fact when I saw a girl tied to a missile aimed at Detroit, I had such a big smile on my face I didn’t care how absurd the whole thing was. Brick Mansions revels in an odd, yet sincere absurdity and it’s all the better for it.
Brick Mansions is definitely a brick house worth visiting. You wouldn’t like to live in it, but it’d be a nice fun weekend.