Thick as a Brick: Slick action opus holds few surprises

Brick Mansions, an “Americanized” version of the 2004 French action hit District 13 reworked by writer/producer Luc Besson, adheres strictly – and strongly – to formula. Directed by Camille Delamarre, a long-time Besson editor making his directorial debut, the film offers a passable diversion for adrenaline junkies.

Much of the film takes place within the confines of the title enclave, a run-down housing development in Detroit so rife with crime that the authorities have constructed walls around the perimeter (shades of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York) which are manned by armed guards – most of whom are apparently corrupt, given what transpires.

Brick Mansions is lorded over by Tremaine Alexander (hip-hop icon RZA), a nattily-attired kingpin who fancies himself something of a gourmand, given his state-of-the-art kitchen and custom-made utensils. Tremaine rules his roost in godfatherly fashion (the Mario Puzo kind) and would like nothing more than to eliminate Lino (David Belle), a French ex-con with a heart of gold and fists of fury who’s as determined to clean up Brick Mansions as Tremaine is to further sully it.

Top-billed Paul Walker, in his final completed role (the next Fast and the Furious will have to resort to doubles and CGI trickery to finish the film), plays Damien Collier, a typically hard-bitten (although very handsome) cop with his own grudge against Tremaine, whom he believes murdered his policeman father years before.

When Tremaine abducts Lino’s ex-girlfriend (Catalina Denis) and lays his hands on a neutron bomb (!), Damien and Lino are formed to team up – surprise, surprise – and save the day. The outcome is never in doubt, although there are some surprise, and surprisingly silly, twists before the fade-out.

This is hardly an actor’s showcase. Walker played essentially the same role in the Fast and the Furious franchise (undercover cop who has a change of heart), RZA preens and smolders as Tremaine, and Belle (who played the same role in the District 13) is primarily required to put on a display of his physical prowess – which he does repeatedly and impressively. Damsel-in-distress Denis handles her share of action, although like Belle is somewhat hampered by the English dialogue.

Then again, the film is hardly a writer’s showcase, either. The script boasts a few howlers, some intentional (“I handle what needs handling,” Walker as Collier states in his best Clint Eastwood growl). There are fist-fights, car chases, daring leaps across buildings and a lot of broken glass. The heroes tend to foreswear firearms for fists and feet while the villains favor firepower, but it hardly matters given how poor their aim is. They never seem to hit what they’re shooting at, which is what probably kept the film to a more audience-friendly PG-13 rating.

Director Delamarre keeps things moving in expedient, rather than efficient, fashion. Brick Mansions is fairly dopey but at least it’s not dull. Not really.