I like big dumb action movies. Seriously. When I heard that there’s a remake of one of my favourite action movies out of France – titled Banlieue 13 – coming up, I was psyched. This was going to be good. But I was disappointed it was complete crap. Prepare for a rant.
Just to address the elephant in the room beforehand: This is Paul Walker’s last movie. I liked Paul Walker. He wasn’t the best actor, but he obviously had fun doing what he did. The Fast/Furious films are great fun if you can suspend your disbelief for a few hours. I also like the fact that they put a dedication to Paul Walker at the end of the movie.
«Now I can’t even make fun of it», said my friend after we’ve finished watching the movie. And she’s right. You can’t. But you know what, I’ve decided that this excuses nothing. Nothing! Because this movie is a disgrace to pretty much everything it’s attempting to do. Acting, stunts, action, story… everything is horribly broken about this movie.
If you’ve seen Banlieue 13, the French movie that came out ten years ago, then you know the story. Well, you can reconstruct it. It’s basically this: Everything’s gone wrong, massive amounts of crime on the streets of the city that was Paris in the original and Detroit in the new one. Detroit is getting a really bad rap these days. First Robocop, now this. I don’t mind them buggering up Detroit at all, but at least do it in good movies.
So the government walls off part of the city. In Paris, you have the already infamous Banlieue which have a really bad reputation. They’re high-crime areas, lots of immigrants, frequent riots. So Banlieue 13 gets isolated and in the remake it’s the fictional district of Brick Mansions.
In this walled-off city, there lives a man who doesn’t do crime. His name is Leïto in the original and Lino in the new one. Both times, he’s played by David Belle, one of the best traceurs in the world. His is the art of Parkour and he uses his skills not to fight but to do hit and runs. He steals the drugs off of criminals and destroys them.
This does not make him all too popular with criminals so they kidnap his sister in the original who turned into his ex-girlfriend in the remake for some reason after he’s managed to steal 20 kilos of heroine from a local crime-lord named Taha in the original and… something in the remake. The RZA. I can’t even remember the name of the bad guy, for Pete’s sake.
At the same time, the city government wants to solve the problem of Banlieue 13/Brick Mansions because it’s a disgrace and Taha/The RZA managed to get his hands on an atomic bomb/neutron bomb. Taha now has it. To retrieve said bomb, they send in the city’s best policeman Damien.
Where it falls apart
You might have noticed that there’s quite a bit of story already there, so the American remake thought it was prudent to add more story. So you have, in addition to all that, a murder plot that involves Damien’s father, an undercover plot that goes nowhere, a grandpa-plot that also goes nowhere. And that’s just with Damien. With Lino, you have the ex-girlfriend plot in addition to him suddenly being a big saviour. The girlfriend, Lola, is now a kickass straw-feminist character who gets to act tough while ultimately being pointless other than having some sort of violent lesbian fantasy re-enactment.
Which brings me to the newly created Razor. She’s an African American Lesbian. So that demographic surely feels well misrepresented here. Goddamn, is that an awful character. Remember the big, grunting barbarian of every 1980s fantasy schlockfest? That’s her. Just in female and lesbian. When she meets Lola for the first time, she pretty much openly states that she will rape Lola and then do unspeakable things with a razor blade to her. Lola, being the straw-feminist expy gets to talk tough and hit her a few times leading up to Razor’s gruesome death. In the middle, Razor does little but grunt and burp or something, repeating the word «Rape» over and over again. So you know she’s evil. Basically, Razor is what an ultra-conservative person from 19th century Mars thinks of a lesbian.
Conversely, there’s nothing ever happening to Lola. They introduced Razor especially so that they have someone to hit her when she acts up while being chained to a nuclear missile. By The RZA. He is a man who chains people to nuclear missiles for absolutely no good reason. And I get it, Lola is supposed to be a strong female character, but that falls flat, too. Because Lola in this talks tough, never does anything of real value and ends up being chained to a nuclear missile regardless. Whatever happened to a decent and consistent damsel in distress? And why is it so bad? I mean, this way, you have a character who can kill a psychotic lesbian rapist in the end with little effort and mercy but can’t land a hit on anyone before that. Really?
Razor works for The RZA. The RZA is a murderer, arms dealer and a threatening person all in all. He even shoots people on screen, reasoning that he’s a businessman and his business is that of keeping Brick Mansions… well, something. He fancies himself a protector of the district. For absolutely no reason. This is a cold-blooded killer who employs – among many others – a psychotic lesbian rapist and a big black man who also has no trouble killing anyone who as much as dares to annoy him. The RZA is a bad man in this movie. There’s nothing noble, nothing redeeming about him. He even tells the psychotic lesbian rapist that «playing around is okay, hurting isn’t» when he leaves her alone with Lola. And you know what happens? This bad man suddenly is a good man in the end. Even better, he leaves his job as an arms-dealer and drug-pusher to teach children at school in the end. This is not a man I would let anywhere near my children.
He also resolves the murder plot about Damien’s father in one sentence. That sentence is «Wait, your father? I didn’t kill him. They did.» And Damien just believes him. Fantastic. That is some quality storytelling right there.
To this colourful cast of characters, add Damien who somehow manages to hang off of a car going at least 300 miles per hour in a busy inner city. All while being shot at with everything short of a nuclear missile. Said nuclear missile is in Brick Mansions, you see.
So in the end, you have the worst person in the movie running for mayor and everyone is happy about it, Lino is back with his girlfriend who escaped the psychotic lesbian rapist and Paul Walker’s Damien gets some sort of happy ending.
The Botched Stunts
If you like Parkour, you’ve heard of David Belle. If you don’t know who David Belle is and don’t know what Parkour is, here’s a demonstration. You want to watch that. Trust me.
David Belle did all these stunts himself. Because that’s his schtick. Want to know another thing? All the stunts up there, he did those without the aid of wires or CGI. Even the big jump at the end.
They put him on wires in Brick Mansions. Or if not wires, then they CGIed the hell out of the scenes, making them far less awesome than they would be had they just stood there with a camera and let David Belle do his thing.
They also slow him down. Because it is painfully obvious that Paul Walker does not have the athletic skill of David Belle and they even poke fun at it in one scene. Then, three minutes later, Lino asks Damien if he’s ready for a backflip followed by a mad fight through narrow hallways and a daring escape from The RZA’s fortress of doom. Up until that moment, Lino had no reason to believe that Damien was actually able to do a backflip, let alone anything even resembling acrobatics.
Whoever did the camera in Brick Mansions was awful, too. Whenever there’s an action scene, there are a million cuts per second and there’s this odd choppy effect at all times. This makes it extremely irritating to watch the action.
The people who did the choreography got pretty much everything wrong as well. Remember that scene in the video on top? If you don’t, watch it again, it’s cool. They decided that this scene wasn’t spectacular enough so they one-upped everything.
To be fair, sometimes, this even worked. There’s a stunt where Lino grabs a ladder that lies around, attaches it to a rail and uses it to swing around. That’s cool, but then there are things where in-universe, Lino must have thought of all these factors while running and jumping around at breakneck speed.
- There’s a guy sitting
- The guy has a conveniently open belt
- I must grab the belt for absolutely no reason
- I now have to run some more
- Here’s a conveniently placed steel cable
- I wonder if I can slide down it
- Hey, I have this convenient belt
- I will now make a zip-line using the belt
What? Why? Because it’s not like David Belle needs gimmicks. That man, while definitely older than in the original, is an amazing athlete. So why is there the need for confusing cuts, weird camera settings.
And the cars! Why the devil does this movie need 700 car chases? Because Paul Walker! He’s not the guy from The Fast and The Furious in this one. He’s a dude who is a policeman, not a former-policeman-turned-outlaw with cars.
Do I even need to mention this? It’s bad. Nobody should see it. There’s nothing fun, entertaining or good about this movie. It’s sad to see Paul Walker go on such a low note.
Luckily, it’s not quite his last movie. There’s still half a Fast and Furious film coming up starring him. I, for one am looking forward to that.
If you’re really considering going, then here’s a trailer. Bah.
PS: The French original got a sequel called Banlieue 13: Ultimatum. We’ll talk about that one soon. So stay tuned.