This review is a bit of a two-in-one – a special bonus for you!
So, what exactly is Parkour? It's defined as "the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing". Here in the U.S., we tend to call it 'free-running'. It was founded by frenchman David Belle.
Banlieue 13 was directed by Pierre Morel, written by Luc Besson and came out in 2004.
It was a showcase for David Bell (who at the time was a YouTube sensation and Parkour inventor) with an assist by Luc Besson associate and stunt coordinator Cyril Raffaelli (he did the mo-cap for Hulk and Abomination in Louis Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk). The original was a quick action flick, set in the distant future of 2010, when a part of the slums of Paris had been walled off, and the criminals left to roam free inside.
Leito (Belle) is trying to do his best to clean up the area for those that live there. He is stealing drugs from local kingpin Taha and destroying them. Taha (Bibi Naceri) sends his number one henchman, K2 (Tony D’Amario) after Leito, leading to an intense opening Parkour action sequence as Leito evades the bad guys. They kidnap his sister to get him to come to them, which he does. He drags Taha to the cops, but the cops let him go, and let him take the sister. In his anger, Leito kills a cop, and heads to jail.
We’re then introduced to undercover police agent Captain Damien Tomaso (Raffaelli), who is assigned by his superiors to go into Banlieue 13 and track down a bomb that Taha hijacked. Once he finds it, he is to call them for the deactivation code. He doesn’t know the layout, so they set up a situation where Damien appears to be a criminal being transported with Leito – he stages a breakout to free the two of them, which Leito promptly sees through. The two of them go to take down Taha’s gang, and the bomb.
Taha meanwhile, is completely out of his mind on cocaine, straps Lola, the sister to the bomb, and aims it towards downtown Paris, while demanding a huge ransom for it. K2 and the rest of the gang take out Taha and help Damien and Leito get to the bomb, but Leito realizes the code that gets called to them is the area code of the area, and the government officials actually want to set off the bomb to wipe out the area. They have a huge fight about whether the code will disarm or set off the bomb, but eventually Damien doesn’t enter the code, and together they take the bomb back to the government and the colonel, to threaten to set it off in his office, as a ruse to get a confession on videotape. The movie ends with Leito and Lola going back inside Banlieue 13 to help clean it up as Damien head off on another mission. It actually had a sequel, called Banlieue 13: Ultimatum that came out in 2009.
Brick Mansions is a remake of the original and it is almost the same with a few key differences. It's directed by Camille Delamarre, who is also from the Luc Besson camp.
It’s in Detroit (of course it is). David Belle still plays Leito, except now he’s called Lino (of all the things to change, why that?). Paul Walker plays Damien, and the druglord is now Tremaine Alexander played by RZA. Gouchy Boy plays K2, and Catalina Denis plays Lola, who has been changed from the sister to the ex-girlfriend. They’ve also added a crazy bad girl named Rayzah, who seems to only be there for creepy sequences with Lola, and one fight between the two women.
Because Paul Walker is the centerpiece of this version, as opposed to David Belle being the centerpiece of the previous version, we get a bit of backstory where he’s a great cop, but haunted by the fact that his father died in District 13 – presumably killed by Tremiane. This gives him even more reason to want to go after him. The opening sequence is virtually the same. K2 comes to Lino’s place to take back the stolen drugs, (they even grab the same actor for directions to the right apartment!) and the parkour chase sequence begins. And here is where we get one of the major problems. This movie is cut way to fast. The point of the first movie was the parkour – which, in order to appreciate, you need to see from far away, with no cuts, so that you understand the amazing athleticism of Belle. There are way too many cuts in the opening sequence, so you lose the effect of what he is doing.
Story-wise, the front half is basically the same. Lino gets away, they grab his ex, he goes back for her, grabs Tremaine and drops him off with the cops who promptly let him go, and give him the girl. Lino kills a cop – gets sent to jail. Damien is established as a great cop and given the assignment to go in after the bomb by the mayor (who already has plans to build a beautiful new complex where the Brick Mansions currently are). The fake bust-out from jail is still there, as is the quickly forced partnership between the two leads. They head in, and this is where some interesting changes happen. In the original, Taha was horrible, and was taken out by his own people so that the bomb could be dealt with. In this one, he’s an upstanding citizen, former military, not a bad guy, just a druglord capitalizing on his situation. He treats Lino with respect and is decent to Lola (Taha had her drugged up and chained like a dog). He even explains to Damien that he didn’t kill Damien’s father, that the father was killed by his own men. But he does want his money for the bomb. He threatens to shoot the bomb at downtown Detroit, but has a change of heart (after the climactic fight scene). Rayzah shoots him, claiming he’s “gone soft”, but he knocks her off a building, so that Damien and Lino can have their fight about whether or not the code will disarm or set off the bomb. Eventually – Damien doesn’t enter the code, and he, Lino, Tremaine, and everyone from the Brick Mansions rushes the mayor’s office, where they get the confession on videotape and immediately release it to the press. The final sequence is Damien coming by to check on Lola and Lino as they are training small children in parkour as the walls around Brick Mansions are scheduled to come down.
The movies are both interesting, and both not very good. They both have entertaining parts, and I am really glad that I watched the original before going to see the new one. I wish there were less fast cuts in the new one and more of the parkour. I did enjoy the cameo by Tony D’Amario in the backround while the new K2 was walking Damien and Lino through Tremaine’s office.
The final sequence showed all these people enjoying life in Brick Mansions, proving that not everyone inside are thugs and drug addicts, but that would have meant more if we had seen that in the beginning. Because there is no one to care about in Brick Mansions for the whole movie, and you assume it is full of thugs and drug addicts, because that’s all you saw. Showing us those regular people at the beginning would have made us care about what happens to Brick Mansions throughout the movie. There is still the fight with “Yeti” – a giant henchman of Tremaine’s. In the first one, he was a big bearded guy. In this one, he’s played by Robert Maillet – that giant French guy you’ve seen in other movies that have a giant French guy.
Everyone in the movie does the best they can with what they have, but it all could have been just a bit better.
- It’s bittersweet to see Paul Walker as Damien. He was really wonderful, and it’s a shame to have lost him so young. He does fine in this as a very determined cop. It was fun to see several scenes where he simply would watch Lino’s parkour and find an alternate method, whereas In the first one, Raffeli could keep up with Belle.
- David Belle may have invented Parkour, but this is 10 years after the first one. He doesn’t seem that much slower, but there was far less parkour in this movie. I would imagine it’s not as easy for him now, but he still looks pretty good. They did choose to dub him over for the movie, which is annoying, but apparently his English is so heavily French-accented, no one could understand him clearly.
- RZA is still not much of an actor, and is sometimes difficult to understand, but he was pretty charismatic, and I enjoyed the character change from the first movie. He does spend a lot of time chopping hot peppers in this.
- Gouchy Boy plays K2, and he’s been in a surprising amount of movies. He’s actually French Canadian, and speaks fluent French.
- Catalina Denis plays Lola, and it doesn’t surprise me that they switched from the sister in the original to an ex-girlfriend in this version, it allows for a more romantic interaction. She has very little to do, but she’s fine for the scenes she has.
- Ayisha Issa as Rayzah was an addition I did not understand, maybe they thought it would be ‘hot’ to have one of the bad guys be a chick who keep threatening to tear off Lola’s clothes? She was super wooden and uninteresting, and the fight scene between the two was not that great.
Overall, the new one is almost equal to the original, but not quite as good. If you’re going to see this one, I highly recommend watching the original first. It’s streaming on Netflix.
6 out of 10. (Banlieue 13 gets a 6.5, Brick Mansions gets a 6.0) Gained points for RZA chopping all those peppers. Lost points for Rayzah – just annoying. Gained points for the opening sequence being just about the same, but lost points for chopping it up poorly. Gained points for shooting in Montreal, but lost points for pretending it was Detroit. Just go with Montreal!
Bonus Video 1: David Belle doing some random parkour. If you have the time, fall into a parkour hole on YouTube. It really is fascinating to watch, and quite a skill.
Bonus Video 2: RZA’s Man with the Iron Fists. Check it out – it’s crazy.
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews