Review: The parkour film ‘Brick Mansions’ needs more parkour

Parkour co-inventor David Belle is seen doing on of the few bits of parkour in "Brick Mansions." Credit: Philippe Bosse
Parkour co-inventor David Belle is seen doing on of the few bits of parkour in “Brick Mansions.”
Credit: Philippe Bosse

‘Brick Mansions’
Director: Camille Delamarre
Stars: Paul Walker, David Belle
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Ten years ago the French action film “District B13” introduced movies to parkour. What is parkour? It’s not a martial art but a “holistic training discipline” in which participants navigate barriers, jump over walls and sometimes between buildings. It’s a no-brainer for movies — except that movies have barely used it. “Casino Royale” was frontloaded with a parkour sequence, but the practice has unaccountably refused to blossom, and only a handful seem to know how to do it properly.

Indeed, “Brick Mansions” — the very belated American remake of “District B13” — only has one guy who can do parkour. He’s David Belle, one of its inventors and star of the original. He reprises his role as Lino (Leito in the original), a taciturn beefcake who lives in the titular locale: an “Escape From New York”-style compound that has walled-off not only criminals but anyone below the poverty line from everyone else. The setting for this one, of course, is Detroit.

Everything is basically the same: An officer, Paul Walker’s Damien, has to sneak into Brick Mansions, defuse a bomb and take down an infamous kingpin (marital arts superfan Rza, mostly present to whip out a gratuitous “C.R.E.A.M.” nod). Even with the political axe to grind, it’s all an excuse for parkour — or it would be if there was much parkour, or if you could see the parkour when it was infrequently busted out.

The original was unusual in modern action cinema by using long takes — as with dancing, the only way to appreciate the skill that goes into Belle and company doing jaw-dropping, lightning fast moves, or sometimes three or four of them in a row, and THEN jumping from a roof into an adjacent window. But for whatever reason — Belle’s age, the fact that no one but Belle can do parkour — director Camille Delamarre cuts the hell out of the action. He stresses blunt force, not balletic skill. One building leap gets diced into six shots, completely ruining the stunt. If you can’t see Belle do what he does in one take, then it just looks like mere movie magic.

Paul Walker joins David Belle in the remake of the French action film "District B13." Credit: Philippe Bosse
Paul Walker joins David Belle in the remake of the French action film “District B13.”
Credit: Philippe Bosse

There’s little parkour anyway. More often than not this is a generic action picture, peppered with cool stunts you wish you could see clearly. The film follows the original fairly closely — it too has been written by Eurotrash mega-auteur Luc Besson — so it feels like it should hypothetically work. But the mimicry is off, and the film looks distractingly cheap and corner-cutting. The film’s stupidity actually becomes a liability at times, as when we’re asked to remember about a tiny detail no audience member would in a million years think to notice. Maybe the original seemed less asinine when you had to read it.

Paul Walker is one of the better things about “Brick Mansions,” and not only because this is one of his final works. It was easy while he was alive to take his granite-Abercrombie presence for granted, but its clear he’d happened upon the right balance of badassery and everyguy appeal. He makes non-jokes if not funny, exactly, then affable. There’s a single good gag (one borrowed, more or less, from “Casino Royale”), where Lino effortlessly careens himself up a wall and over, throwing himself through a small hole — an impossibly cool move that leaves Damien dumbstruck, forced to come up with a more brutish alternative. For about 20 seconds, “Brick Mansions” isn’t merely a film that exists because people hate to read at the movies.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.