Remakes don’t exactly have the best of reputations when it comes to quality. Sure we’ve had some great remakes in the past like Scarface, The Departed, King Kong and even Robocop, but I don’t think it will be a controversial opinion to say that most of the remakes that come out are not terribly good. The Uninvited, Planet of the Apes, Arthur, Halloween and its sequel, Bewitched and now Brick Mansions, a completely uninspired and pointless remake of the pretty good although already pretty dumb District 13.
Starring the late Paul Walker and David Belle from the original, Brick Mansions is set in a dystopia-esque Detroit, undercover cop Damien (Walker) is sent in to the titular walled off district to recover a stolen bomb that was accidentally activated and is going to blow everything up. Meanwhile, Lino (Belle), a free-running…person without much backstory steals and destroys a stash of cocaine from some gangsters led by Tremaine Alexander (RZA) so he can keep the streets of his beloved brick mansions clean. In order to lure him to them so they can get revenge on him, they kidnap his girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis). Now a straight-edge undercover cop and a criminal with a heart of gold team up to fight crime and save the city.
While this sounds like the premise for a terrible buddy cop show, in the original French film it actually worked pretty well. It knew full well that its story was not much to write home about, so instead they focused on the jaw-dropping real life stunts of the two leads with any wires or CGI which ended up making it the French Ong-Bak. It was a lot of fun, and while Brick Mansions takes the stunts from District 13 it forgot to take the good acting, snappy dialogue and most importantly the cinematography where you could see a thing that was going on.
Yes, it’s one of those films with so much shaky cam that you can barely tell whether the characters are beating the bad guys up or just giving them a friendly hug. This is a problem exacerbated by some of the choppiest editing in a recent action film, which makes the whole thing look and feel like half the frames have been cut out to make it seem more fast paced, but only makes the proceedings feel amateurish. While you could put this down to being a first time director, the original had a first time director as well who went on to direct Taken, so I don’t see that as much of an excuse.
One explanation I have for the abysmal editing is that they desperately wanted to make Paul Walker look like a match for David Belle even when he clearly was not. It’s so painfully obvious that Paul Walker was not and could not do parkour on the same level as Belle and it’s frankly quite embarrassing. The attempt to make Walker look more real only makes Belle look more fake, and when you remove the fighting and action the whole thing becomes entirely pointless.
Brick Mansions commits the ultimate sin of a remake, which is to be so bad that it makes me question the quality of the original. The motivations are barely even existent, the overall villain’s plan (which is presented as a twist but is unbearably obvious) doesn’t make any sense, and the characters are sketchy and thin. But looking back that was all present in the original too, so why wasn’t it as noticeable then?
Well, you know when you go to see an Arnie movie you can excuse the plot making no sense because Arnie and by extension the action is so awesome and that’s just what you’re there for? That’s the same with District 13. The martial arts is so much fun that it actively distracts you from the shortcomings of the plot, but with the removal of any sense of fun or excitement Brick Mansions destroys any reason District 13 had for existing in the first place.