Director: Camille Delamarre
Cast: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Catalina Denis
Running time: 90 mins
Release: 2 May
At the long funeral of racially divided America, any earnest mourning is suspect. It doesn’t even feel right to get nostalgic for the old South anymore, post-12 Years a Slave; manure on your best cream suit, the sudden smell of burning flesh, etc. But Brick Mansions just burst in and it’s straddling the coffin, keening, wailing. You thought you’d never see a Chinese laundry again? A Greek crime boss? Black hoodlums? Latina cleavage? It’s all here, mistah, with Paul Walker (RIP) in the middle of everyone, punching.
Everything about Brick Mansions situates it in a far earlier moment, somewhere between Escape from New York and the L.A. Riots. Racial categories used to lasso difference and keep the mayhem well away from us, remember? Well here in 2018, ‘Brick Mansions’ is the name of a housing complex in the middle of Detroit into which the (mostly black or deformed) hoodlums have been shoved. The authorities have erected a separation wall around it, with army checkpoints at intervals. It’s supposed to be a gross hellhole, a dystopian ghetto, but besides some rats and some scuffage, it looks OK. Everyone has a nice car with a GPS, there are some pleasant diners. The children’s clothes are very clean. In fact, the place looks so nice that it’s often quite difficult to tell when you’re in Brick Mansions and when you’re in plain old uptown Detroit, where the Mayor concurrently schemes and raises champagne flutes all day (in fact, the whole thing was shot in Montreal, which explains everything). Everyone in the Mansions is a hoodlum though – drugs are dealt with abandon. RZA, who surely didn’t need the money all that badly, plays de facto president/top dealer Tramaine. The film wants to make it very clear that these people are criminals, but since the circumstances don’t seem like they ought to cause any severe or lasting trauma, little is done to explain the Brick Mansions residents’ strangely compulsive criminal activity. Rambo and Snake Pilssen and James Watson would all tell you that these individuals’ atavism is genetic, and so, presumably, would Paul Walker’s character, Damien Collier, a name so fake-sounding that I would refuse to hand over the packet of Camel Blue unless the gentleman presented some other identification.
Brick Mansions is based on District 13, a fun and silly French film from 2004. Luc Besson wrote it, and he gets a credit for Brick Mansions, too, though you wouldn’t know it to watch it. District 13 mainly existed in order to show off the parkour skills of David Belle; Belle also appears in Brick Mansions, and one of the film’s few entertainments is watching him caper around the concrete and steel. There’s little else to enjoy. Despite RZA’s presence, the soundtrack is as uncomfortably anachronistic as the whole approach – something like what would happen if you let Tipper Gore DJ at your block party. If you want to pretend like The Wire or even The Cosby Show never happened, maybe you’ll get something out of it. I prefer to remember Paul Walker as he really was, and say my daily kaddish over the 11-hour Fast and the Furious box set.