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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Brick Mansions 2014 * * * Stars

Brick MansionsDirector: Camille Delamarre
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Paul Walker, Rza, David Belle, Robert Maillet

Brick mansions according to this sugar junked 2014 release, refer to the rotted out areas in Detroit where governmental hygiene and the law in general, don't exist. These mansions are surrounded by a wall (just think of the outlining containment in 1981's Escape from New York but without the prison tie-ins), provide housing for the most despicable criminals imaginable, and even have normal, decent (yet poor) civilians living there as well. Brick Mansions (the film I'm reviewing) is about brick mansions. And it's a quick, relentless, almost ridiculous little action collage. But it's energized and entertaining not to mention fused with a nifty little twist of an ending. Oh and it's got a pretty cool movie title too.

Touted as a remake of the 2004 french film District 13 and solidifying itself as one of the late Paul Walker's last cinematic outings, Brick Mansions enters the buddy action genre by teaming up a decorated Detroit, MI cop with a misunderstood, hard up ex-convict. Walker plays officer Damien Collier and David Belle plays the resourceful, street minded, Lino Dupree. Together, they must stop a disastrous event by infiltrating the highly desolate quote unquote, "mansions" and destroying a nuclear rocket built to be launched thereby leaving Detroit in ruins. Crime lord Tremaine Alexander (played feverishly by RZA) is the keeper of this dangerous device and wants $30 million dollars in return for disarming it. This is the gist of what's going on and while the plot elements seem interesting, they sometimes get lost in the muck due to an enormous amount of non-stop (almost unnecessary), bloodless, gore-less, yet pulsating action sequences.

The action in Brick Mansions consists of exhausting fistfights, standard car chases, foot chases, shootouts, and a couple of mild torture scenes. Everything is done in a tasteful, steadily violent (and surprisingly profanity-free) PG-13 vein. I mean, you get a little bit of everything and almost too much of it. The dialogue spoken by the cast feels a little juvenile at times (as if it was written by an immature teenager). But it's also sort of meaty and macho while coming off as unabashedly tongue-in-cheek. Director Delamarre, a first timer, exhibits something that is ADHD enhanced. He's made a down-and-dirty hip hop video in which he films a lot of actor close-ups, edits in cuts that are lightning quick, showcases tons of slow motion stuff, and even shows fights with plenty of jittery camerawork when needed. While doing this though, he sometimes slips in the development of the characters and the overall plot.

Now as mentioned earlier, this film is defiantly an action collage, a sort of greatest hits collection featuring the best ways to defeat your enemy through tingling martial arts. The action scenes while impressive, seem overused and sort of overshadow what exactly is going on making things a bit murky. Nevertheless, they reminded me of the first ten minutes of 2006's Casino Royale, certain parts of the 1985 flop, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, and even the dance flick, Step Up. The ominous butt kicking by Walker and Maillet as the action buddy duo, seemed kind of poetic, or ballet-like. And the sort of moves they display and their outfits gave off the whole West Side Story vibe if you know what I mean (simple jeans and t-shirts folks).

As for the performances, they are much stronger than in your typical mindless bullet-ridden fare. Paul Walker does just fine as an undercover, revenge-minded cop. His role is underdeveloped (every person's role is) but it's done with total ease. David Belle, not known initially for his acting (he's a stunt coordinator), does what's required and pulls off what female mixed martial artist Gina Carano did appearing in 2012's action thriller, Haywire. As for the best turn in Brick Mansions, I'd say that honor definitely goes to rapper turn thespian RZA. He's slick and savory, menacing and bull whipped as Tramaine Alexander. He's a villain with a surprising conscience and a glaring stare to boot.

In retrospect, everyone who sees this flick will probably pass judgement on star Paul Walker's lasting impression. Why, because it might be the last time moviegoers ever see him on the silver screen. And despite what I've heard or read about him in the past, I've never been that suspect of his acting ability in any capacity. He always had the X factor, quintessential movie star looks, and a feasible amount of effortless charisma. If you take away his work in The Fast and the Furious movies however, I'm not sure that he would've ever reached a level of super star status. Now do I think Brick Mansions is the ultimate sendoff for his contribution to Hollywood escapism? Not exactly. But it seems like a serviceable vehicle catering to what choices he made over a 20 year plus career in film.

Towards the conclusion of "Mansions" and during a tiny break in its tired action set pieces, Walker's Damien Collier utters the line, "different method, same result." He says this after crashing through a roof and evading would-be thugs. Well Paul, we'll all miss you on screen and your last film's method, I'd say it ain't so bad.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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