[Screen It]


(2014) (Paul Walker, RZA) (PG-13)

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Action: In a dystopian Detroit circa 2018, a vengeful cop teams up with an ex-convict to take down a ruthless arms dealer who has stolen a neutron bomb.
In 2018, Detroit has become a frightening dystopia where the most dangerous neighborhood has been cordoned off by a containment wall and the people behind that wall have been left to fend for themselves. Many live in the Brick Mansions, old, once ornate structures that used to house the city's most successful people. Today, they are ruled by Tremaine (RZA), a drug and weapons dealer who commands a small army of thugs and even has the officers at the wall's checkpoint on his payroll.

When a local neighborhood hero named Lino (DAVID BELLE) steals his latest shipment of cocaine, Tremaine assembles his forces commanded by the cold-blooded K2 (GOUCHY BOY) and the violence-obsessed Rayzah (AYISHA ISSA) to hunt the former convict down and kill him. They end up taking his former girlfriend, Lola (CATALINA DENIS), hostage to draw him out.

Meanwhile, undercover vice cop Damien (PAUL WALKER) accepts a dangerous assignment from Detroit's Mayor (BRUCE RAMSAY) -- infiltrate the Brick Mansions neighborhood, team up with Lino, and diffuse a neutron bomb Tremaine has stolen from the government and has aimed at downtown Detroit. Damien has a double motive for accepting the mission in that his father, a decorated cop, was previously killed by Tremaine.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
It used to be so much fun to have what I used to call "Paul Walker moments." They inevitably would happen when I was behind the wheel of my car, on the highway, in situations where I had to speed up to get past a slow vehicle or make a light or change lanes to get off at a highway exit that was a lot closer than I thought. Few dudes looked cooler driving a car at high rates of speed on screen, and it was fun to kind of pretend you were him at the helm of your own super-charged ... eh ... Hyundai.

I had one such moment heading to my "Brick Mansions" preview the other night. I had taken my wife's car instead of my own, and it didn't have the automated E-Z pass device that allows me to pass through the Ft. McHenry toll tunnel in Baltimore without having to stop at one of the booths and pay cash money. I realized I didn't have my E-Z pass at the last possible instant, veered into an open toll booth lane, and came to a halt and was greeted by a real, old-school B'more maven wanting my $4 toll. Yeah, you guessed it. I didn't have any cash. And there is NO charging at that particular stop.

So, I said, "I'm sorry. I don't have any cash. And you don't accept credit cards, do you?" And she replied, "You-go-you-git-a-bull!" And I said, "Uh, I'm sorry. What?" And she repeated, "You-go-you-git-a-bull!" Cars stacking up behind me, I nervously answered, "I'm sorry I have no idea what you're saying." It sounded like a threat. It sounded possibly like "If I go, I'll get into a trouble." She repeated a third time, "You-go-you-git-a-bull!!!" And I finally just said, "OK, ma'am. I think I heard you say the word 'go' in there somewhere. So, I'm gonna go, but please don't send officers after me."

And the one word I did understand as I eased off the gas and floored it away from the toll booth rhymed with "Gas bowl." For five minutes, fear gnawed at my gut as I nervously scanned the rearview mirror expecting a high-speed police response. It never came. And in those moments ... yeah, I felt like Paul Walker. In a weird way, it was fun having my first Paul Walker moment since his untimely demise last November in which he was killed as a passenger in the front seat of a car being driven at an excessively high rate of speed that ended up crashing.

Unfortunately, "Brick Mansions" attempts to be a sort of "Fast and the Furious" lite with multiple car chases and at least two sequences that climax with Walker's undercover cop character crashing his vehicle head first into barriers at excessively high rates of speed and easily surviving without a scratch. You could feel the air go out of the audience and the film in those instances. It's just too soon.

Walker stars as Damien, a man who believes in justice in a near-future dystopian Detroit in which the Motor City's most crime-ridden neighborhood has been cordoned off with a giant wall. He ventures into this tough, lawless neighborhood to bring his father's killer (RZA) to justice and diffuse a neutron bomb that the ruthless arms dealer has apparently stolen from the government. He teams up with an ex-convict named Lino (David Belle), whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by the same gangster.

Belle is actually the best thing going for the film, as he employs an acrobatic fighting style that combines parkour with martial arts. He gets the first major action sequence in the film, and it's a spectacular one, evading dozens of RZA's hoodlums and thugs through multiple buildings in the Brick Mansions neighbor, climbing up walls, sliding down fire escapes, leaping from building to building, and generally doing stuff that would break normal men's ankles about a dozen times.

From there, though, the film doesn't come up with a new gimmick and becomes excessively repetitive in its action sequences. And, laughably, the film goes the "Fast and the Furious" route late in its running time and makes it criminal characters the heroes of the piece. They amass against the crooked Mayor at City Hall and plead the case of the downtrodden behind the great wall. Never mind that these same "heroes" have spent the previous 90 or so minutes committing cold blooded murders, warring over cocaine stashes, punching and dragging women by their hair, and so forth.

It's too bad Walker couldn't have completed his last film and had it been something lighter and more enjoyable like a romance or a comedy. Those Paul Walker moments were too few and far between. On the positive side, I did finally figure out what the toll taker was trying to tell me: "You go and you get a bill," meaning the toll plaza took a photo of my license plate and is mailing me the bill. Ah, Baltimore. I give "Brick Mansions" a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 23, 2014 / Posted April 25, 2014

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