For a movie that makes mention, nearly every five minutes or so, that this is Detroit, it seems odd that they would offer almost no evidence beyond cars. The Metropolitan? No, you silly bastards, the paper of Detroit is the Free Press. We drink Vernor’s and wholly expect to get shot exiting to both Joe Louis and Metro.
No mention of 8 Mile? Nothing of Motown? Not a word of Comerica Park. Hell, I don’t even live in Detroit, and — oh, and nothing about the Red Wings, either — and I know to reference all that.
There’s a point to that rant — as Brick Mansions is a movie about not quite getting there. The name, which is iterated an reiterated so many times before the title actually appears that I thought it had already appeared when it finally does, is Detroit 2018…or Arkham City: Detroit, a walled slum that is a world unto itself.
It has its own economy, the nature of which is never elaborated upon, and controlled largely by drug-lord Tremaine Alexander (rapper RZA) — how he became so rich and powerful selling to bums is also not very clear — who is presently engaged in catching the feisty Lino (David Belle), a slippery parkour enthusiast whose job is, apparently, swiping drugs from Tremaine’s operation and disposing of them at inopportune times.
The film opens with an impressive display of Belle’s agility, as he tumbles, glides, wall jumps, belt-lines, and neutralizes Tremaine’s thugs with minimal prejudice throughout his run-down apartment complex. It’s a good set piece, and director Camille Delamarre has a steady enough grasp of geography that you don’t get lost following Lino’s escape, but the camerawork, being yet another lift of Bourne‘s shaky cam, often makes it difficult to see what Belle is actually doing. It doesn’t ruin the sequence, and subsequent set pieces, but they’re innovative and skillfully executed by Belle, they deserve more.
Besides Lino and Tremaine, there’s also Damien (Paul Walker), a cop, a good cop, a damn good cop. A damn good cop dedicated to taking down Tremaine (doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of walling up all the bad guys?). At least Damien has a decent reason — Tremaine’s responsible for the death of Damien’s father. And Tremaine’s also hijacked a bomb. And he’s kidnapped Lino’s girlfriend. The bad guy’s not hurting for bad deeds. And he has at least three nasty henchfolk.
Juggling all the reasons for everyone wanting to take down Tremaine and the lapses in camera judgement (and this neutered vision of Detroit) aside, however, BM is a decent action flick. Again, this is action, and it’s frequently good action. I already mentioned the opening, and two other sequences come to mind — one involving Walker handcuffed to a steering wheel, and another where he and Belle take down the brutiest of Tremaine’s goons. Though at times, Walker and Belle seem to have the same acrobatic abilities, which takes away from some of the enjoyment because it’s much more fun when we get to see each one deal with the same obstacle their own way.
Still, at 96 minutes, it never feels too long, and with a story co-written by Luc Besson (and based on 2004’s District B13 and also starring Belle), it mostly holds together. Walker, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t have much of a presence, but he isn’t a drag on the film, and Belle and RZA both have their charms. I may not buy RZA as a suave businessman (seriously, who would have the same number for every one of his hidden bank accounts?), but he goes a long way by not trying to be tough.
Basically, BM is a tough movie to dislike, and if you want to go in for some hoops and a-hollers, a couple-a blowed-ups and even a cat fight, go right ahead. If you want to wait until the huge summer blockbusters arrive, you won’t miss too much.