Remakes aren’t always unfortunate messes. If a writer or a director has a truly original vision for a story already interpreted by someone else, the result can be as good or even better than the inspiration was. When a writer/director instead decides to just try and copy the original’s script with a hotter cast or in a different language, though, the result is often a lifeless failure that doesn’t capture that indiscernible quality responsible for creating movie magic the first time around.
Like the recent, wholly unnecessary remakes of Carrie and Oldboy, Brick Mansions (a remake of the 2006 release District B13) should work in theory, since so little of the source material is altered. Through poor casting and directing, though, it fails to click in any reasonable way. The added scrutiny of this being the last film Paul Walker completed before his death in November doesn’t do Brick Mansions any favours, either.
Taking place in the year 2018, Brick Mansions imagines a near-future in which Detroit’s worst neighbourhood has been walled off and the two million living within its barrier struggle to survive. Lino (David Belle) is one of the few fighting the good fight, trying to drive the ruthless warlord Tremaine (RZA) out of his neighbourhood.
When Tremaine gets his hands on a bomb that arms itself, with a 12-hour countdown, super-cop Damien (Walker) is sent into the barrio known as Brick Mansions to gets past Tremaine and disarm the weapon – with the aid of Lino, who knows the ins and outs of the area.
The story is nearly identical to that of original, yet the clumsy direction of Camille Delamarre leaves the movie feeling dumb instead of exhilarating and ridiculous instead of sublime. District B13 was notable for its intricate fighting and chase sequences, which introduced much of the world to parkour. While the action was impressive, it was largely due to how well rehearsed and choreographed the action was. Brick Mansions, meanwhile, just frantically edits the fight and chase sequences in rapid shots of random movement and the occasional face, assuming the effect will be the same on audiences.
The further the plot moves along, the dumber the whole movie gets. Without any style, visual flair, or competent writing, Brick Mansions’ stupidity displays itself frequently and prominently, especially in its final act. (Also, despite the plot being virtually unchanged from District B13’s, Brick Mansions still finds time to shoehorn no less than three superfluous car chases into the movie, because Paul Walker.)
Walker does nothing here that he didn’t previously do better in movies like Joy Ride, Running Scared, and the Fast & Furious franchise. It’s by no means a bad performance, but for his final complete role, it’s a disappointingly simplistic character to begin with and Walker can’t do much with it. Belle (reprising the same role he played in District B13) and RZA both do the best with what they can, but find themselves in the same boat as Walker.
Brick Mansions is a bad remake, but much more crucially, it’s just a bad film in its own right. Its script is a retrace of something that worked once before, but Delamarre’s affinity for slow-mo, aversion to shots longer than a few seconds, and all-around inexperience as a director leaves the final product a muddled, broken mess.