Friday, April 25, 2014

Brick Mansions: Thick as a...

Brick Mansions (2014) • View trailer 
One star. Rated PG-13, despite frenetic gunfire, relentless violence, profanity, drug content, sexual menace and racial epithets

By Derrick Bang

My 8-year-old nephew could have written a better script.

Pinned down by an overhead sniper, Lino (David Belle, left) and Damien (Paul Walker)
try to figure out their next move. It won't be hard; in a movie this daft, I'm sure they
could just sprout wings and fly up to confront their attacker.
I marvel at the fact that people — in this case, Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri — got paid actual money to generate such swill. This inept excuse for an action flick may not be as disgustingly mean-spirited as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent Sabotage, but it’s just as stupid.

Actually, Brick Mansions isn’t even a movie; it’s just a big-screen talent showcase for French parkour founder David Belle, a fast-moving force of nature best known as a stunt coordinator on films such as Transporter 2, Colombiana and The Family. Belle is the real star here, and — I cannot lie — his jaw-dropping free running, climbing, jumping, hopping and bopping are a sight to behold.

Poor Paul Walker — the late Paul Walker — may be top-billed, but he’s little more than a shadow in Belle’s wake.

And both of them are ill-served by this limp-noodle project from Besson, the French movie machine — he also co-produced this junker — who dashes off scripts, individually or collaboratively, like grocery lists. And, frankly, filming a grocery list might have given us a better plot.

Besson has delivered numerous enjoyable hits, from La Femme Nikita and The Transporter to Taken. But he’s also responsible for a lot of disappointing junk, including recent efforts such as Lockout and this year’s Kevin Costner vehicle, 3 Days to Kill.

Brick Mansions actually is an American remake of an earlier Besson/Naceri script, 2004’s District 13. Belle played the same character in that version — same name, even — which was set in the “futuristic” Paris ghettos of 2010, where an undercover cop and an ex-thug (Belle’s part) teamed up to infiltrate a criminal gang in order to defuse a neutron bomb.

Imagine. I managed to type that last sentence with a straight face.

So, modifying things only slightly, this update is set in 2018, in Detroit. Tell me if this sounds familiar: The upper-echelon citizens, having grown tired of rampant inner-city crime, have isolated an entire chunk of thug-infested housing projects behind a massive, encircling concrete wall. Undercover cop Damien Collier (Walker) is sent in to rescue the U.S. president ... no, wait, that was John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

In fact, Damien really is sent in to defuse a neutron bomb. He’s given this impossible assignment by Detroit’s mayor (Bruce Ramsay), a smarmy skunk who clearly can’t be trusted as far as somebody could throw him. Honestly, I’m surprised he doesn’t succumb to Snidely Whiplash cackles.

Ramsey, it should be mentioned, can’t act a lick. But then he’s in good company, since nothing remotely approaching “acting” takes place in this flick. Director Camille Delamarre appears to have slept on the job: No surprise, since he also was responsible for lesser sequels (Transporter 3, Taken 2) in Besson’s oeuvre.

Belle co-stars as Lino, an essentially good guy who grew up in Brick Mansions, and hates what it has become. He therefore embarks on a one-man crusade to clean up this concrete jungle, one block at a time, by (for example) intercepting and destroying drug shipments. This doesn’t sit well with local kingpin Tremaine (rapper/hip-hop impresario RZA), who retaliates by snatching Lino’s girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis).

Except that Lola regards Lino as her ex, and doesn’t necessarily want to be rescued. Until she gets roughed up by Tremaine’s bad-ass moll Rayzah (Ayisha Issa), a hot-tempered  bisexual bee-yatch who apparently exists solely to give us a highly unlikely cat-fight between these two women. (Major yawn.)

And the neutron bomb? Stolen by Tremaine’s dim-bulb lieutenant, K2 (Gouchy Boy), from a military transport vehicle. At least, that’s the story fed to Damien by the mayor, but can we really believe that, coming from a man who, just a few scenes earlier, unveiled plans for a revitalized downtown Detroit, if only he can get that pesky Brick Mansions out of the way?

Actually, I should apologize to poor K2; he’s no dumber than the rest of the morons populating this ludicrous saga ... and that includes Damien, who fails to consider that the mayor might be playing him. In fairness, Lino seems to have an ounce of sense. Maybe even two ounces.

Tremaine certainly doesn’t. Once the merde hits the fan, he straps the bomb to a small missile aimed right back at the heart of Detroit’s civic center. But then, in order to draw the pesky Lino into the open, Tremaine also orchestrates Lola’s certain doom by shackling her to the missile.


I’m no rocket scientist, but it strikes me that woman-sized dead weight might prompt a missile to veer off-course a bit, assuming it even was able to take off. But hey; Besson and Naceri probably would tell me not to sweat details; after all, it’s just a movie.

(Where’s my nephew? We could make big bucks writing this swill!)

Okay, so that’s the plot, in a nutshell. (Actually, a nutshell is too roomy.) How ’bout characterization?

Well, let’s see. Tremaine obviously is a chill dude, because he speaks eloquently and Likes To Cook. Rayzah parades about in cleavage-enhancing black leather. Lino’s fashion statement is a white T-shirt ... which, rather oddly, never seems to get grimy. As for Damien, he Has A Grandfather.

Yep, that’s it: Damien has a grandfather. I’m sure Besson and Naceri spent hours coming up with that pivotal detail.

The scores (hundreds?) of thugs and minions are nameless, faceless, gun-toting extras who wander aimlessly into scenes, just to get knocked about by our heroes. I suspect many are rappers and hangers-on drawn from the music world, no doubt delighted by this opportunity to Star In A Major Motion Picture. More fools they.

The one exception is Yeti, a 7-foot man mountain played by former World Wrestling Entertainment star Robert Maillet. He looks impressive merely by dwarfing Belle (5-foot-10) the same way Andre the Giant towered above Cary Elwes, in The Princess Bride. And, of course, we look forward to the climactic moment when Yeti roars into battle against our two heroes.

A lucky few of the other sideshow nobodies actually get to chase Damien and Lino a bit, before getting knocked about. Even as Tremaine’s goons, they’re useless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many tough guys pointing guns to little effect.

Which brings up another issue. Despite being 89 minutes of nonstop violence, some of it quite grim — as when an irritated Lino concocts a clever way to break a crooked cop’s neck — this film somehow skated through with a PG-13 rating. I suppose that’s because, just as Lino’s shirt never gets dirty, nobody in this mess seems to bleed ... at least, no more than the minor scratches Walker sports on his face.

Granted, this is a live-action cartoon, but it’s a cartoon laced with brutal fights, relentless gunfire, vicious mayhem and plenty of death. Assigning a family-friendly PG-13 rating simply because we don’t see bullets puncture flesh is the height of hypocrisy, and makes an even greater mockery of the already useless MPAA ratings board.

Everything builds to a jaw-dropping finale that defies description, violates every rule of plot continuity, and leaves us with this heartwarming message: Far better to be governed by drug dealers and gang-bangers, than by corrupt sharpies in Savile Row suits.

As my aforementioned nephew would say, with exaggerated impatience, Whatever.

Let it be said, as well, that this is a very, very sad swan song for Walker.

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