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 film with A-level action/D-level plot is too typical of the lesser fare (“Vehicle 19,” “Takers”) that Walker squeezed in between the “Fast & Furious” movies.
“Brick Mansions” is a remake of the French parkour thriller “District B13,” 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 somehow keep up with a guy who goes over walls, not around them.
Set in the Detroit of the very near future, in a housing development that’s turned into such an irredeemable ghetto that the government has walled it in. “Mansions” showcases Belle as Lino, an underworld figure who turns into some sort of crusader for cleaning the place up. Walker’s Damien is out to finish off one last drug lord, played by the rapper RZA.
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A bomb has been stolen and activated by the gangsters, who risk blowing up the entire middle of the city. Damien must let the Frenchman be his guide as they dash in among the “Brick Mansions” to defuse it.
The stupidity of the piece hangs over it from the start
. The mayor
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 and weapons
used, but depopulated Detroit is hardly the crowded, cop-packed crime mecca the film depicts.
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 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.