Paul Walker died Nov.30, as a result of a tragic auto accident in which he was the passenger, not the driver. At the time of his death, shooting had just begun on Fast & Furious 7, and obviously, he was unable to finish his work on the movie. (It’s still unclear exactly how much of a role Walker’s character, will wind up playing in the eventual, still-to-be-completed film, or even how the filmmakers will fill his part – if they really do so.) So Brick Mansions, a film he shot several months before the fatal auto mishap, actually wound up becoming the well-liked actor’s final big-screen film. Frankly, there are a lot of actors who have a lot of worse “last films” on their credits. It’s a more than passable remake of District B13, a French action-thriller from 2004 that helped popularize the sport of Parkour (also described as “urban gymnastics” by some). This film reunites screenwriter/producer Luc Besson and writing partner Bibi Naceri (who penned the original), as well as one of the earlier movie’s stars, David Belle. Credited as being one of Parkour’s originators, Belle also reprises the same role he played in that film, and adds some athleticism and grittiness where and when needed here. But even with Belle and Besson adding some “legitimacy” to the English-language re-do, this is still Walker’s show, and if nothing else, he shows he was a credible action performer. He stars as Damien Collier, a Detroit undercover cop who hopes to take down Tremaine (rapper-turned-actor RZA), a criminal mastermind who has deadly plans for the city slums he helps operate. To stop the drug lord once and for all, Damien will have to join forces with Lino (Belle), an ex-con who has his own reasons for wanting vengeance on Tremaine. (He’s kidnapped Lino’s ex-girlfriend, Lola, played by Catalina Denis.) For this uneasy partnership to work, the duo must first penetrate the containment wall that separates the rest of Detroit from the “brick mansions” that house Tremaine and his criminal enterprises, and then convince Tremaine they’re looking for “work.” Further complicating things: They’ve got only hours to stop their quarry from levelling much of the city. The trapped-behind-enemy-lines story line may remind some of both the first Raid movie (2011’s Redemption), as well as Dredd (2012). And like the original, the plot only gets more ridiculous as it progresses. However, this version does remove some of the more ludicrous, science fiction-y elements and instead concentrates even more on the action, which is a good thing. Director Camille Delamarre (a Besson protégé) adopts some of the style of his mentor, and allowed Belle to coordinate the Parkour action, which not only replicates some of the more jawdropping stunts from the original, but creates a few new ones that will satisfy those who came for the action. You know, the audience this film is clearly trying to please. And listen, Walker knew his stuff when it came to martial arts, having studied Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do and other forms. He shows some serious moves here, and cinematographer Christophe Collette helps make it clear that it’s actually Walker who’s performing a lot of his character’s stunts and action. As for Belle’s less-physical performance elements … well, you have to understand that English is not his first language. And yes, some of RZA’s line readings do leave something to be desired. Again, though, audiences who see the movie aren’t there for dialogue, and thankfully, the film does keep it to as much of a minimum as possible. (Though, like the original, its more expository elements are so silly that they may garner some guilty giggles.) Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).
Directed by Camille Delamarre; written by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri, based on the 2004 French-language film “District B13;” starring Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA, Catalina Denis and Ayisha Issa; rated PG-13; in general release; running time: 90 minutes.