A moment that never fails to terrify in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre involves the protagonist’s attempts to flee Leatherface’s bone-strewn lair. No matter how flailing and prolonged her desperate sprint, she somehow keeps winding up circling back to the same exact spot over and over again, as if guided by some dark, unforgiving hand of fate. In Brick Mansions, the belated and paradoxical EuropaCorp Americanization of the French cult classic District B13, a similar pattern is established. Though in this instance, only the very charitable would characterize this strain of providence as anything other than dumb, or at least incredibly forgetful.
As it was in the Luc Besson-penned original, Brick Mansions envisions a near-futuristic metropolis—this time Detroit circa RoboCop, plus or minus about five years—so economically divided that the have-nots have been literally walled by the haves into a tenement at the nexus of Cabrini-Green and Edgar Allen Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.” Law is indifferent to what happens behind those walls, and commerce stands ready to pounce on the real estate. Integrity on the inside is left to the likes of Lino Dupree (David Belle, reprising his role from the original), a bouncy little irritant to drug kingpin Tremaine (RZA), routinely hijacking his shipments and dissolving them down the drain before jumping out some eighth-story window to his next misadventure.
Did I say the law is indifferent? There’s one lone-wolf exception in Damien Collier (Paul Walker), an undercover police officer whose obsession with avenging his cop father’s death within the Mansions has led him to decorate an entire wall of his loft with a drug-lord hit list straight out of the workroom in The Wire. Less interested in reversing the decay of the slums than in putting big red X’s on those headshots, Collier is the sort of cop who’ll hang on to the trunk of a careening car like T-1000 than let his mark evade capture. (And there isn’t much way around this: The movie’s party atmosphere sinks heavily every time Walker smirks and fastens his seat belt.)
Besson’s scenario executes a few parkour contortions of its own to get Dupree (himself a purported cop killer) and Collier (who mostly just kills buzz) backflipping in tandem, though it’s a wonder they haven’t partnered up before, as almost every character in the film seems caught in a loop of limited agency. At one point, Lino, having just been chased out of Tremaine’s lair, marches right back into the den, explaining, “That’s just what they won’t be expecting.” (Hilariously, Tremaine is seen on both days chopping red peppers for his famous mother sauce, as though it’s the only recipe he knows.) Call it an unintended perk of the movie’s modest budget, but the way Brick Mansions’s characters repeatedly return, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Sally Hardesty, to the exact same situations they just escaped is as dramatically ungainly as it is, however accidentally, evocative of the cyclical nature of their disenfranchisement, to say nothing of the built-in redundancies of the remake itself. In reality, the filmmakers from the House of Besson have clearly been conditioned to react with impatience at any two adjacent minutes that don’t involve base jumping or evil-lesbian razor-blade foreplay. But as the film’s denouement suggests, it doesn’t matter who’s mayor. The game will always stay rigged.