Crime in the inner city of Detroit has gotten bad.
In 2018 things are so bad, in fact, that the government has walled off a chunk of the city—a condemned public-housing segment called Brick Mansions—and placed it under martial law to keep the rest of the citizens safe. But that's not good enough for an undercover narcotics cop named Damien.
Damien is convinced there's only one way to snuff out criminal corruption and the decay of drugs: You go to the source. That source in this case is an ex-military thug named Tremaine, a guy who lords it over Brick Mansions by the point of a heroin needle. He'll kill anyone who gets in his way. And, it's said, Tremaine was also the man who murdered Damien's decorated police officer father.
To get to Tremaine, though, the narcotics cop will need a little help. His superiors tell him about a guy named Lino, a principled, acrobatic street fighter who knows the Brick Mansions area like the back of his scarred-knuckle hand. This guy has been battling against Tremaine from inside the wall. And the drug lord recently kidnapped Lino's ex-girlfriend to use as a bargaining chip.
So all Damien has to do is somehow connect with this Lino character and use his knowledge to their advantage. But that won't be easy since Lino distrusts cops and their corrupt ways only a fraction less than he distrusts Tremaine. In fact, Lino's something of a cop-killer himself.
Oh, and then there's a neutron bomb in the mix, too. Literally, a neutron bomb. If Damien can forge his wary alliance with Lino, battle his way through the hundreds of heavily armed toughs in Tremaine's gang and save the girl, he'll then need to disable that stolen weapon.
Just another gritty day on the streets of Detroit.
It could be said that, for all of his dangerous and line-smudging choices, Damien is indeed fighting to rid the city of crime and evil. And his grandfather warns him that "revenge and justice are not the same thing." Lino, too, in his own way, wants to rid his city of the rot of the drug trade.
Young women work in a drug room, dressed only in panties and T-shirts. We spot a couple of semi-nude centerfold pictures taped to a guy's wall. The ripped Lino goes shirtless. A girl in Tremaine's inner circle named Rayzah wears a tight-fitting leather outfit that's composed of short shorts, a garter belt and a bustier. She regularly teases Lino's girlfriend, Lola, in a twisted and sexual fashion, snipping off shirt buttons and ogling the girl's breasts while holding a blade to her throat. Later, the two get into slap-punch-and-tear fights that include masochistically sexual overtones.
The women's final struggle ends with Rayzah hanging off a rooftop, held in place by Lola's legs, which are wrapped around her neck. Rayzah looks up from Lola's crotch and then falls to her death when Lola spreads her legs.
And that's the kind of thump-slash-blast-die violence that fills 85% of this flick. There are dozens of twisting, twirling battles that feature punches and kicks to faces and bodies. The rampant and repetitive driving action leaves scores beaten senseless or dead.
A man has a pen jammed into his neck while the guy next to him gets a bullet to the forehead. A cop is killed when his head gets yanked through the opening in a prison door and stomped on (breaking his neck and maybe even decapitating him offscreen). Several men's arms are broken, caught in the spokes of a large steering wheel. A guy gets a metal pipe to the face, another is pistol-whipped and several others receive bricks and concrete blocks to the head.
Someone holds on to the rear of a speeding car while being shot at from close range. In fact, at least 10 people are shot point-blank in the chest or sent tumbling face-first from speeding vehicles. Cars and vans smash, crash and burn.
One woman is cut by a whip. Another is punched full in the face and knocked out cold by a large man, and later dragged by a chain around her neck.
Crude or Profane Language
One full and two unfinished f-words. Nearly 30 s-words. Rapid-fire uses of "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑tard." About a half-dozen times the n-word gets flung at people. Damien flips his middle finger at other cops.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Lino rips open and destroys 20 kilos of heroin by pouring Drano over it. We see handlers packing plastic bags with heroin. Damien drinks glasses of hard liquor while working on a case. Booze and wine flow freely at a dinner party. Thugs smoke cigarettes, as does Damien's elderly grandfather. (Damien tries to convince the man that it's a foul habit.) Somebody smokes a pipe. Somebody else puffs on a cigar.
Other Negative Elements
One of the more disturbing aspects of this film is the fact that almost all the destruction and death—such as Tremaine's point-blank murders and poisonous drug dealing—ultimately goes unpunished. In fact, the crime boss is held up as something of a hero by movie's end, his actions all but "justified." He was forced, the film tells us, by governmental choices, into the lifestyle he lives. Even Lino is excused in murdering a police officer because of the greater sense of wrongdoing attached to the corrupt cops.
Brick Mansions is one of the last features action star Paul Walker finished before his untimely demise in 2013. And I suppose you could say it fits well with other flicks in his anthology. It is certainly fast and routinely furious.
Based on a French hit called District B13—famed for its use of parkour stunts—Brick Mansions does manage to get in some pretty cool acrobatic thrills. But after the first few dynamic minutes of leaps from open windows, scampering wall runs and pursuer-avoiding gymnastic somersaults, most viewers will have had their fill of the stuff.
And they'll still have another hour and a half of nonstop action-violence to endure.
Those 90 minutes are crammed with a continual regurgitation of pretty much the same gun-blazing, back-flipping, ghetto fight scene. They're consumed with crass and banal dialogue. And they're obsessed with a story that's witless, inane and maybe even a bit dangerous—a tale where a deadly cleaver-wielding drug lord is suddenly transformed into a disenfranchised people person. Why, he was just selling all that heroin to ease the masses' suffering!