District B13 was a fun and unique alternative to the typical overblown action films you would typically find in Hollywood. Co-writer, Luc Besson, and director, Pierre Morel, managed to create a very tight and to-the-point action film that focused on what makes it work and what made District B13 work was it’s incredible stunt work and parkour choreography. Character and plot, though it’s there and holds everything together quite well, takes a back seat to the non-stop, adrenaline rushed thrill ride. It was so refreshingly simple that an American remake would seem as pointless and redundant as a remake of The Raid: Redemption (coming soon by the way). Well, Hollywood delivered and we have a remake of District B13, written by Luc Besson and directed by first-timer, Camille Delamarre, and it only took a decade for the film to get remade. So, with the man responsible for the original involved, will Brick Mansions hold up as its own film?
For those who have seen District B13, Brick Mansions follows the plot of the original almost point by point the exact same way. There are some minor changes here and there that felt kind of arbitrary, but nothing drastic except for one plot point that was about two-thirds into the original film, and it does not happen in Brick Mansions. You’ll notice when you see a certain scene not happening. For those who haven’t seen District B13, Brick Mansions takes place in a dystopian Detroit where the criminals and underprivileged are walled-off in a low-income housing area called Brick Mansions. Idealistic cop, Damien (Paul Walker), and ex-con, Lino (David Belle) are brought together to take down drug kingpin, Tremaine Alexander (RZA), who is using a stolen bomb to threaten the city.
Remakes have a very fine line to ride. In theory, they should be able to do some new and interesting things, while at the same time, staying true to the nature of what made the original work. Brick Mansions rides that line very haphazardly. Occasionally, certain moments shine and show some creative and stylish direction, however, other moments felt uninspired, pointless and at points laughable. There are some components in Luc Besson’s script where I felt he could have actually improved on the original, and for the first half hour or so, it felt like it was going that direction. But as the film went on, it seemed to build on a number of missed opportunities, and while he does translate many elements of the original film for an American audience very well, it ultimately felt like a good film that could have easily been great.
First, the good things about the film. It is faithful to the original, granted a bit too much, but it keeps the fast-paced simplicity of it. The political subtext of the original is still here, though it does get a bit overblown in the end. There are a couple solid performances. Paul Walker and David Belle work well together (though most, if not all of David Belle’s dialogue was dubbed with ADR work, and it was kind of distracting). Also, the parkour and stunt work is great and a lot of fun to watch. The film also has a very over-the-top feel to it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and if you let yourself, you can have fun with the film.
Despite enjoying the film for the most part, there is more to talk about that isn’t very good. The biggest problem is by far the editing. It is so unnecessarily choppy and quick-cutting. It becomes very obnoxious very quickly. Some will say that the use of slow motion is incredibly cheesy, but I’m glad it was used because at least it gave a clear view of the fantastic stunt work. Also, apart from Paul Walker and David Belle, the rest of the cast ranged from alright to RZA. Seriously, RZA is not intimidating whatsoever and his delivery is laughably flat. Aside from that, one element that was off-putting was the lack of blood and cutting away from violence. 3 Days to Kill did that too, but it was not too obvious. While here it is very obvious. So, like with 3 Days to Kill, if you want to wait for the unrated cut to come out on DVD/Blu-Ray, then it’s totally understandable.
Brick Mansions is a dumb action movie that focuses on all the right elements, the parkour and fight/car stunt work and choreography. While it does falter on certain elements that may not work for some people, the film has a frenetic energy to it that keep you entertained for its 89 minute running time. There isn’t a dull moment in the film, and if you are a fan of the original that should be a sign of relief. It is a satisfying remake that certainly could have been better, but for the kind of film that it is, it works just fine. For people who haven’t seen the original, this is a solid action film with an interesting style that makes it worth watching, as long as you’re aware you’re going into something kind of stupid. Though I would still recommend the original over this. Also, the film loses major points for not using the opportunity to end on a freeze-framed fist bump. I mean, come on!
Side Note: Luc Besson is easily one of the busiest people working in the entertainment industry. He co-wrote 3 Days to Kill, which came several months ago. Now, he has Brick Mansions in theaters. He is also listed as a producer for the Tommy Lee Jones directed western, The Homesman, which will most likely have a release later this year. To top it all off, he is also writing and directing Lucy, the sci-fi action film starring Scarlett Johansson that is slated for an August 8th release. Where he gets the energy to do all this work, I have no idea, and he is consistently good at what he does. So, whatever he has coming next year is game for me.