There are, in the annals of cinema, bad movies which fail because they think they’re smart and bad movies which succeed in part because they know they’re not. Brick Mansion is not a good movie, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some fun watching it. Why? Because it knows what kind of a bad movie it is.
Yes, this is a film that falls very squarely into “so bad it’s good” territory, though it requires a particular commitment from the audience to arrive at this point: There might as well be a little basket by the theater doors that says, “Please deposit all logic here.” To put it in context, one of the most logical things in the movie ends up being the fact that the anti-tampering measure on a neutron bomb is to activate the countdown on the bomb itself. And, for the record, no one seems to think, “Well whose stupid idea was that?” when this is measure explained. Ok, context established.
You will not enjoy this movie if you come to it expecting any kind of serious drama, good acting, or even a cohesive plot. That’s because that’s not what kind of movie this is. This movie exists for three things:
1) Foot chase scenes
2) Car chase scenes
3) Fistfight scenes
Beginning to sound a little familiar? Yep, I think we’ve found the alternate universe where Officer Brian O’Connor never stopped being a cop and moved to Detroit after his The Fast and the Furious exploits. His name has changed (Paul Walker, to whom the film is dedicated, plays undercover officer Damien Tomaso this time around) but the swagger remains. Oh, and we’ve traded the brawling, brawny, mechanical aesthetic of Vin Diesel and Co. for the finessed, lithe, organic stylings of Parkour co-founder David Belle. This is why foot chase scenes are added to the expected mix of automobiles and pugilism, with Belle’s acrobatic running a major stylistic feature.
Belle plays Lino, reprising his role as a vigilante of the slums from District B13, the 2004 French film by Pierre Morel and Luc Besson upon which Brick Mansions is based. In the near future, a neighborhood of Detroit (it was Paris in the original) known ironically as Brick Mansions has been literally sectioned off from the rest of the city by a large wall. Public services like hospitals, schools, and a police force don’t exist in Brick Mansions; in the absence of law and order, the region is controlled by a drug-pushing gangster called Tremaine (played by RZA). For reasons which are not particularly important, Lino and Damien both have it out for Tremaine, and eventually partner up to take him down.
What’s kind of funny is that this partnership – and with it the central plot of the movie – isn’t actually introduced until close to halfway through the film. This might be a major issue for other movies, but again, logic (/plot/character) is not what this movie is all about. What’s then left to stop the movie from featuring its two protagonists separately for the first half of the movie? Nothing.
What the movie does offer is a continuous stream of reasons (to use the term very loosely) to feature both men doing their action thing. There is, for example, a scene where after dispatching of some captors the two men argue – and fight – over which one of them will take ownership of their car…only to ride off together once the dispute has been “decided.” Does the fight make sense given their characters? I guess. Does it matter? No. Does it lead to some cool choreography? Yes. And that’s why it’s in the movie.
That’s also why the movie, at least for the first three quarters of its 90 minute runtime, can be pretty fun. When the action breaks, there’s even the (probably) unintentional humor found in the nonsensicality of the plot, the bad dialogue, and the dumb characters to tide you over. It kind of works when you don’t ask any of it to be any good and just roll with whatever proverbial s*** the movie throws against the wall. It’s kind of like watching a pig luxuriating in the mud. It is by definition a mess, but the pig couldn’t be happier and you know it.
But I say three quarters because excuses to watch people fight/race/run from each other in a plot that doesn’t inspire anything but some self-conscious laughter is only amusing for so long, and the movie doesn’t have anything to fall back on when those simple pleasures fade. To the movie’s credit, there is actually an attempt to make a poignant criticism of race and class relations at the very end of the film, but it comes too late in the running and is woefully undercut by…well, pretty much everything up until that point. From a technical standpoint, the camera placement hastened my loss of patience with the action, as it’s about 30% too close to what’s going on in nearly every frame of the movie.
The Verdict: 2 out of 5
This movie is going to be remembered, if it is at all, as one of the last to feature Paul Walker. That might be fitting, as it’s right in line with the sort of film that made him famous. Clearly, the Fast & Furious franchise will be his legacy, but this film is like a variation on that theme, albeit one that’s far less concerned with plot and character. Some of its choreography aside, Brick Mansions is, by any technical or storytelling standard, not good. At all. The great mystery of the movie is that somehow that doesn’t equate to an unwatchable movie. High praise, perhaps not, but leave all your logical inhibitions behind, and I’ll be damned if most of Brick Mansions isn’t perfectly capable of providing some mindless entertainment.