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Characters run, leap and punch in Cirque du Detroit action bomb

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How are we going to jump our way out of this? Parkour specialist David Belle, left, and Paul Walker can't save film with D-level plot.

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How are we going to jump our way out of this? Parkour specialist David Belle, left, and Paul Walker can't save film with D-level plot.

The late Paul Walker wasn't a great actor, but within a narrow corner of the action genre, he was the guy who got the job done. He was a vulnerable tough guy who could hold his own in stunt brawls and car chases, an actor who said "bro" like he meant it. He will be missed.

But not for something like Brick Mansions. This A-level action / D-level plot is typical of the lesser fare Walker squeezed in between the increasingly popular, decreasingly intelligent, Fast & Furious movies. He showed some range in Hours, playing a newly widowed dad trying to save his baby in a hospital that's been abandoned during hurricane Katrina, but Mansions is like Vehicle 19 or Takers -- dumb, noisy junk, and the best he could do in a career that never really took off.

Brick Mansions is a remake of the French parkour thriller District B13, a run, jump, punch and dangle picture from the Luc Besson (Taken, Transporter) action stable. David Belle, the French stuntman/parkour specialist who starred in that one, returns here. Walker plays a cop who meets this French wonder while working undercover, and has to somehow keep up with a guy who goes over walls, not around them, and who plunges through car windows rather than opening the door.

Set in the Detroit of the very near future, in a housing development that's turned into such an irredeemable ghetto that the government has walled it in, Mansions showcases Belleas Lino, a French underworld figure who turns into some sort of crusader for cleaning the place up, probably to win back his girl (Catalina Denis).

Walker's Damien is out to finish off one last drug lord, Tremaine, played by the rapper RZA.

A bomb has been stolen and activated by the gangsters, who risk blowing up the entire middle of the city. Damien, the cop, must let the Frenchman be his guide as they dash in among the Brick Mansions to defuse it.

Editor-turned-director Camille Delamarre, a Taken 2 and Transporter 3 veteran, jump-cuts his way through the fights, chases and parkour stunts of this picture, giving the action a jagged, nervy edge. Belle gets a pre-credits showcase sequence, and Walker has a brawl, shootout and dragged-behind-a-car chase right at the beginning to set the tone.

But the stupidity of the piece hangs over it from the start, too. The mayor, perhaps relying too much on the French screenwriters who don't know what an acre is, refers to the Mansions as "20 acres in the middle of the city." That's a Walmart parking lot, hardly a large enough setting for all we see here.

The near future -- 2018 -- may be necessary in terms of the cars, weapons and cellphones the film uses, but depopulated Detroit is hardly the crowded crime mecca the film depicts.

A fishnet-stockinged assassin named Rayzah (Ayisha Issa) makes a strong impression, but none of the other cops, crooked officials or mob henchmen do.

Walker's best moments have him doing a deadpan double take at some impossible stunt Belle's Lino has just pulled off. That gives his character a moment to figure out how he can get the same results without having the wall-climbing, back-flipping and tumbling skills of his Cirque du Detroit sidekick.

And moments like that, even in a dumb movie, add a little sting to the loss of Walker's amiable, sincere screen presence -- a nice guy who always made a convincingly righteous dude, and an actor who wasn't above letting himself in on the laugh that a lot of his movies were.

 

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2014 D3

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