Thursday, May 01, 2014

Brick Mansions

Folks don't always believe me when I say that they should go see French genre movies because they don't mess around, but it's true. In fact, some of the best horror movies and mid-sized action movies you'll see come from there, and even some of the more entertaining English-language action movies of recent years came out of Luc Besson's factory.

It's a funny thing, though - the stereotype is so often that foreign films are less empty action and focus on characters more, and American remakes dumb things down, but Brick Mansions kind of messes up by going the opposite way. It's been a while (eight years) since I saw the original District 13, so maybe it's got something where Cyril Raffaelli's got some sort of personal enmity against Taha that must be dealt with, but I don't remember it. Besson jams that sort of subplot in for the American version, though, and what's up with that? Have we been so programmed to make things personal that either audiences find "Tremaine killed Damien's father, and he wants revenge!" to be a bigger deal than "neutron bomb might go off in the middle of Detroit!"?

That's weird, right? And it's part of why I like French genre movies: They may not necessarily go in for a whole lot of nuance, but they don't mess around with less important stuff the way American movies often do, with this being an obvious example.

Brick Mansions

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2014 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

The first action-oriented previews for Brick Mansions made it look like David Belle was at the center of the movie with Paul Walker around to give Americans a familiar face; the later ones would focus more on Walker and his character's personal motivation to complete this mission and avenge his father. Now, while Walker was by all accounts a stand-up guy who built himself up into a decent-enough actor, this movie is a prime example of how that sort of obligatory storyline just gets in the way of the good stuff.

Belle plays Lino, a resident of a Detroit neighborhood so bad that the city has walled it off, stopped running schools and hospitals, and let the criminals run wild; he does his best to clean up the area by interrupting the drug trade, which leads to Brick Mansions's kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA) having his ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) kidnapped. Walker, meanwhile, plays undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker), currently working to bust George the Greek (Carlo Rota) as part of his obsession with busting Tremaine, who is responsible for the death of Damien's father. He's about to get his chance; a weapon of mass destruction has been stolen and brought into the neighborhood, and the mayor (Bruce Ramsay) has tasked Damien with finding it, using Lino as a local guide.

Brick Mansions is a remake of French film District 13, also written and produced by Luc Besson and starring David Belle. Belle doesn't return because he is fluent in English (he is overdubbed by an uncredited Vin Diesel), but because he is the inventor of parkour, or "free-running", an athletic discipline all about getting from point A to point B by going over, around, or through any obstacles without breaking pace. District 13 was all about finding ways to string parkour stunts together with just enough story to justify it, so if you're going to remake it, you might as well bring back Belle. Doing so pays off right away; the movie kicks off with a terrific chase scene that maybe isn't as jaw-dropping as the similar sequences from District 13 because parkour has become a staple of action films in general since then but is still a great few minutes of David Belle doing nifty David Belle things. Besson and director Camille Delamarre don't forget what the point of these movies is, and even a lot of action that isn't parkour per se is enjoyably acrobatic.

Full review at EFC

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