This fourth weekend of April looks to be a return to great limited-release cinema. After last week’s dismal options (more like Transcendenzzzzzzzzzzz, am I right?), we have two anticipated art-house films to look forward to: the Tom Hardy-led Locke and Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin. So, of course, my first movie of the weekend is going to have to be Brick Mansions. “Turn down for what?” the trailer emphatically cries to no one in particular. “Nevermind,” responds the unnamed accoster, “turns out there isn’t much to turn down in the first place.”
To describe what happens in Brick Mansions as a “story” is generous, but I will do it anyway. The late Paul Walker stars as Detective Damien Collier, assigned to try to recover a fully weaponized neutron bomb in the possession of druglord Tremaine Alexander (RZA). He is barely assisted by Lino Dupree (David Belle) who just happens to be amazing at parkour. The general concept, of a Detroit housing project practically abandoned by the government at large, is an interesting one, but the execution leaves much to be desired.
The script, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen is pretty incoherent, with almost every character performing tasks with little-to-no motivation. Even in conversation, characters make statements that seemingly arise from nothing. The filmmakers do themselves no favors by casting predominantly foreign actors in American roles. Every actor, with the exception of Walker and RZA (who we’ll get to later), appears to be trying their hardest to replicate the American accents they have seen so many times in film or television.
They are ineffective, to say the least. Noneso more than Belle, whose dialogue must have been so awful that the producers saw no other recourse but to completely dub over all of his lines. Look, there’s a lot of ADR going on in the film, but not one of Belle’s lines was actually recorded live. They were all re-recorded months later in a sound booth. And it has an effect.
Belle is the most engaging part of the film. His parkour stunts are truly engrossing, and I would have been more than willing to concede that this character has a French accent. In fact, it is mystifying that Lino is described as a “French bastard” throughout the film, but manages to speak perfect English whenever he is called upon to deliver lines. Either Belle’s performance was truly terrible, or the producers had no faith in their second-billed actor.
But honestly, if they were going to dub over Belle’s entire performance, they probably should have done the same for the RZA. Even though he is referred to as “Tremaine” throughout the film, I am pretty sure the RZA is playing himself in Brick Mansions. He may be one of the most musically gifted members of the Wu-Tang Clan, but he is probably the worst actor (he’s certainly no Method Man). RZA spends most of the movie being vaguely threatening with a meat cleaver, until a third act reveal asks us to reasses everything we know about the character. Unfortunately, the things we know about Tremaine Alexander are pretty damning, and no matter what director Camille Delamarre wants us to feel, RZA’s character is never actually sympathetic.
Honestly, the only reason to see this movie is for Belle’s parkour-based action scenes. Even Walker, who verges on charismatic throughout the picture, cannot salvage a bonkers script. It is hard to latch on the parkour, even, as so much of it is reliant on coincidence and contrivance. I have no doubt that Belle would be more the capable of handling himself in a truly dangerous situation, unfortunately Delamarre never feels the need to put him in one.
Brick Mansions is a complete mess. I am still too close to it to be able to assess if it is a beautiful mess (a la The Room) or a terrible one (a la That Awkward Moment), but there are certainly aspects I am interested in revisiting, particularly a villain performance from the RZA that leans almost entirely on lyrics from Bob Marley songs. Brick Mansions may never be a quote-unquote “cult hit,” but you will probably find some entertainment value contained within. Your ironic mileage may vary, but why not check out one of Paul Walker’s final roles? Unfortunately it is not a better send-off to an “Everyman” who is better looking than every man I know.