The late Paul Walker wasn’t a great actor, but within a narrow corner of the action genre, he was the guy who got the job done. A vulnerable tough guy who could hold his own in stunt brawls and car chases, an actor who said “Bro” like he meant it, he will be missed.
But not for something like “Brick Mansions.” This A-level action / D-level plot is too typical of the lesser fare that Walker squeezed in between the increasingly popular, decreasingly intelligent “Fast & Furious” movies. He might show some range in “Hours,” playing a newly widowed dad trying to save his incubator baby in a hospital that’s been abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. But “Mansions” is like “Vehicle 19” or “Takers” – dumb, noisy junk and the best he could do in a career that never really took off.
“Brick Mansions” is a remake of the French parkour thriller “District B-19,” a run, jump, punch and dangle picture from the Luc Besson (“Taken,” “Transporter”) action stable. David Belle, the French stuntman / parkour specialist who starred in that one, returns here. Walker plays a cop who meets this French wonder while working undercover, and has to match or somehow keep up with a guy who goes over walls, not around them, and who plunges through car windows rather than opening the door.
Set in the Detroit of the very near future, in a housing development that’s turned into such an irredeemable ghettothat the government has walled it in, “Mansions” showcases Belle as Lino, a French underworld figure who turns into some sort of crusader for cleaning the place up, probably to win back his girl (Catalina Denis).
Walker’s Damien is out to finish off one last drug lord, Tremaine, played by the rapper RZA.
A bomb has been stolen and activated by the gangsters, who risk blowing up the entire middle of the city. Damien, the cop, must let the Frenchman be his guide as they dash in among the “Brick Mansions”to defuse it.
Editor turned director Camille Delamarre, a “Taken 2” and “Transporter 3” veteran, drops frames and jump cuts his way through the fights and chases and parkour stunts of this picture, giving the action a jagged, nervy edge. Belle gets a pre-credits showcase sequence, and Walker has a brawl, shoot-out and dragged-behind-a-car chase right at the open to set the tone.
But the stupidity of the piece hangs over it from the start, too. The mayor, perhaps relying too much on the French screenwriters who don’t know what an acre is, refers to the Mansions as “20 acres in the middle of the city.” That’s a Walmart parking lot, hardly a large enough setting for all we see here.
The near future – 2018 – may be necessary in terms of the cars, weapons and cellphones the film uses. But depopulated Detroit is hardly the crowded, cop-packed crime mecca the film depicts.
A fishnet-stockinged assassin named Rayzah (Ayisha Issa) makes a strong impression, but none of the other cops, crooked officials or mob henchmen do.
Walker’s best moments have him doing a deadpan double take at some impossible stunt Belle’s Lino has just pulled off. That gives his character a moment to figure out how he can get the same results without having the wall-climbing, back-flipping and tumbling skills of his Cirque du Detroit sidekick.
And moments like that, even in a dumb movie, add a little sting to the loss of Walker’s amiable, sincere screen presence – a nice guy who always made a convincingly righteous dude, and an actor who wasn’t above letting himself in on the laugh that a lot of his movies were.