Brick Mansions is a crumbling mess

If you go willingly into a Luc Besson production, you know what to expect: cartoonish bad guys (with at least one oversized thug), c reepy French actors miscast in American roles, and a string of outlandish chase scenes and fight sequences. His latest is all of that, wallowing in the same depravity that finds its visual expression in the garish cinematography and lurid direction that marks many of the films bearing his producer imprimatur.

But Brick Mansions is an especially graceless and ugly addition to the canon. (It’s also a remake of another Besson film, 2004’s District 13). If not for the presence of the late Paul Walker (the Fast and the Furious series), it would hardly be worth mentioning except to say that it well and truly sucks out loud.

Like its forbears, Brick Mansions is defined by its own pose, cynicism and obviousness. When we’re introduced to the film’s drug-dealing overlord (RZA), he’s cooking a family recipe while dressed like he might, at any moment, get the call to go clubbing. The implication is that, deep down, he’s a good-hearted family man – the contrived set-up for a bit of late-film rehabilitation that’s as ridiculous as the rest of the movie.

Walker’s cop has two reasons to go after RZA: He believes he killed his father in the line of duty, and he’s sitting on a nuclear device. To get his man, Walker must enter the brick mansions of the title: squalid apartment buildings that have been walled off from the rest of Detroit (cinema’s punching bag of a city that has come to represent the worst urban decay in the U.S.).

Assisting Walker is Lino (David Belle), a resident who wants to put the drug dealers out of business and excels at turning the dilapidated tenements into his parkour playhouse. (Belle is the founder of parkour, that fun-to-watch, obstacle-defying discipline, and he gets to show off his moves during an extended sequence early on that is the best thing the movie has to offer.) Such is Lino’s skill, you have to wonder why he doesn’t just parkour himself into a better zip code.

But even that’s a compromised pleasure, as the action sequences have been filmed to create a grainy, high-speed, strobe-y effect that is painful to look at, especially as they are part of individual shots that have been quick-cut to disorienting effect. Even as it’s in a rush to bypass storytelling and logic, Brick Mansions makes the time for perversions like the scenes between a kidnap victim and her twisted female tormentor.

The movie was directed by Camille Delamarre, whose experience includes editing work on Besson’s Taken 2 and Colombiana.

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