The audience uttered a collective “Aaaw” and applauded when “In loving memory of Paul Walker” flashed on screen at the end of “Brick Mansions.”
He completed it before dying in November in a fiery crash along with a friend at the wheel of a speeding Porsche. That sad reality is never far from your thoughts, especially when his undercover cop is zooming through the streets of Detroit in all manner of vehicles, from a prison van to a vintage Mustang.
But it’s about more than fast and furious cars, allowing you to forget he’s gone and settle into the movie, a so-so American adaptation of “District B-13” and “District 13: Ultimatum.”
The former, set in an ugly, futuristic Paris, starred David Belle as a Frenchman named Leito who washes 50 kilos of dope down the drain. That prompts a drug lord to order the kidnapping of Leito’s sister, who is then turned into a junkie.
Belle returns here, this time as Lino, a resident of 2018 Detroit, branded the most dangerous city in America. The government has walled in crumbling housing projects known as Brick Mansions, ostensibly to keep the lawless, violent degenerates from the rest of the city.
When Lino dumps 20 kilos of white powder down a bathtub drain, he incenses Tremaine (RZA), the local drug lord. In an effort to smoke him out, Tremaine’s henchmen kidnap his girlfriend, waitress Lola (Catalina Denis).
Turns out Walker’s undercover cop, Damien Collier, has his sights set on Tremaine, too, for killing his father. After a violent variation of a meet-cute, Damien pairs up with Lino in an effort to free Lola, bring Tremaine to justice and, oh yes, try to defuse a stolen bomb set to explode in hours.
“Brick Mansions,” like its forerunners, is a movie with a message at its core, but that aspect is handled in heavy-handed, simplistic fashion with Tremaine as a ruthless criminal who just might be the social conscience of the city and a pretty good cook, too.
It is first and foremost, though, an action picture that provides another showcase for Belle, one of the founders of Parkour, the art of moving through an environment as swiftly and efficiently as possible using only the human body.
That means navigating a hallway by treating the walls as floors, scaling a brick building like Spidey but without the web-slinging, and leaping from a rooftop into a lower window in a building many yards away.
Although Walker and Belle don’t have action-hero chemistry, their at-odds approaches to opening a locked car or escaping from a blockade of goons is the best part of the movie. The sadistic treatment of Lola, cold-blooded killings and dopey political decisions are the worst in a movie that pushes the boundaries of its PG-13 rating.
“Brick Mansions” showcases Walker’s ability to maintain and mock authority with easy charm, but it’s not his final film – that will be “Fast & Furious 7” – or his best, by far.