In 2004 super-prolific producer Luc Besson unleashed Bainlieue 13 upon the world and it was an exhilarating parkour ride through a fictional district in future Paris that allowed David Belle (a founder of the sport of parkour, or free running) to dazzle viewers with his stunts. Now, 10 years later, the Hollywood adaptation of that movie — entitled Brick Mansions — opens around the world, starring Mr. Belle and the late Paul Walker.
The narrative is similar to the French original, with Detroit subbing for Paris. Brick Mansions is a walled-in neighbourhood where bad news is rampant. There are no school, hospitals or police stations, but there is no shortage of violence, drugs, or weaponry. The area’s unofficial ruler is Tremaine (RZA) and his pack of bad boys do not like it when someone messes with them.
This is where Lino (Belle) comes in. He’s been making life hell for Tremaine’s thugs and when it doesn’t look like capturing him is a possibility, Tremaine’s people go after Lola (Catalina Denis), Lino’s ex-girlfriend. On a parallel track a cop named Damien (Walker) is also gunning for Tremaine because he holds the mobster responsible for his father’s death. And it becomes clear that Lino and Damien will have to work together to take down Tremaine.
Like I said earlier, the narrative for Brick Mansions does not deviate too far from that of Banlieue 13 and yet it plays out like a bad photocopy of the original. Whereas every chase and fight sequence in the original was unbelievable in its speed and ferocity, this time around it feels like the punches and kicks needed to be telegraphed every time Mr. Walker was involved. Clearly there is a certain amount of trickery involved when major movie stars are involved in action sequences because insurance requirements demand that the big guys cannot be endangering life and limb in the pursuit of a perfect shot. But the difference is palpable. Even more so in the case of Tremaine vs. Taha. Taha was the big boss in the French original and he was played by Bibi Naceri, the co-writer of the screenplay. Mr. Naceri exuded menace and ability; I have no idea what the RZA is going for. The man has one expression, and terrible dialogue delivery. It all adds up to a whole lot of nothing.
Final Analysis: For a movie that is adapted from a genuinely exciting action movie, Brick Mansions commits the cardinal scene of being boring. For a movie directed by a former editor, the pacing on Brick Mansions is just…off. So to answer the question posed in the title of this review: it is not even close, Banlieue 13 wins hands down.
My Advice: If you’re interested in the movie, wait for it on DVD. Or check out the French original, and its sequel.