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Paul Walker in scene from "Brick Mansions"

In his last movie role before the car accident that claimed his life, actor Paul Walker made an action film … with a conscience.

Whether that conscience led to the right conclusions, however, is a defining dividing line in American political discourse.

The film, “Brick Mansions,” takes place in the very near future, when a dystopian Detroit housing project called Brick Mansions is merely locked away from “civilized society” behind a concrete wall, the residents therein allowed to fend for themselves. But when a weapon of mass destruction falls into the wrong hands behind that wall, an undercover cop and a local vigilante brave the streets to save the city.

The film features some fascinating and entertaining parkour sequences, especially at the very beginning, which show off the sport’s stylistic movements. Parkour, for those unfamiliar, is the art/sport/discipline of racing up, over and through urban environments with maximum speed and minimum equipment. With Spider-Man-like agility and strength, parkour lovers combine acrobatics with rock climbing as they run, swing, vault, jump, roll and leap up and over buildings in ways that seem superhuman to us mere ground-dwellers. It truly is a beautiful sport when done well, and “Brick Mansions” does it very, very well – at least to this untrained eye.

Unfortunately for the film, French parkour star David Belle may have all the right moves in his sport, but brings neither acting skill nor charisma to his role in “Brick Mansions.” Walker oozes charisma, but he doesn’t really carry the movie either. Neither do any of the forgettable supporting actors.

And while I truly enjoyed the parkour sequences in “Brick Mansions,” the laughably bad script and preposterous plot just don’t hold them together very well. Frankly, I think they would have made better YouTube videos than a movie.

What Walker signed up for, however, was more than just a parkour movie. This is a film with a conscience and a message. It paints a sympathetic picture of Detroit’s urban wasteland, where some good people are trying to live in a very bad environment. It warns against too quickly dismissing gang members as thugs and degenerates, suggesting even Detroit’s projects are not beyond redemption.

The question, however, is what can effect that redemption.

“Brick Mansions” suggests solutions from a clearly liberal worldview. I won’t say “leftist,” or even “progressive” – which in our current climate often connotes a more Marxist worldview – but the more classic definition of “liberal,” as in the bleeding heart that means well but is misguided, the kind of liberal that a conservative could still talk to and find common ground with, even if they disagree on how to solve the problems they can both identify.

For the makers of “Brick Mansions” reveal by the film’s somewhat syrupy conclusion that they believe what is really needed to “restore Detroit to its former glory,” as the city’s mayor pledges in the film, is an end to political corruption and more investment in education, hospitals, local political representation and – as the film so blatantly symbolizes – new school buses.

When the Occupy crowds show up at the end of the film to bring justice to the world, the local drug lord becomes the poster boy of political integrity and the former gangs band together to plant trees – because this all actually happens in the movie – you can practically hear liberals singing “Kumbaya.”

A hint of modern progressivism may sneak in with an implication that if you oppose this liberal fantasy, it makes you somehow racist. But perhaps I only inferred that.

Nonetheless, it is a fantasy.

Liberal or conservative, we can agree political corruption plays a big part in perpetuating poverty and urban decline. But the belief that schools and government investment can fix the problems is a pipe dream, a fantasy true leftists use to dupe and manipulate the average liberal into thinking “their side” is the compassionate one.

Detroit’s problems won’t be solved by more government money; in fact, the better case can be made that dependency upon government money has exacerbated the problem.

For America’s urban decline isn’t a crisis of government-service shortages, education or even a lack of trees. It’s a social, psychological, philosophical and moral crisis. Families have broken down, and with them God’s designed environment for growing children who love their neighbors, care for their parents, commit to their own education and contribute to the local economy. No government “education” can ever replace the role of family.

Detroit doesn’t need a government redeemer; it needs a divine Redeemer. Beyond that, it needs intact families; it needs dads and positive male role models; it needs churches that bring the gospel and feed the hungry; it needs a political system that protects the innocent instead of making them dependents; it needs truth and love and the Author of both.

Unfortunately, despite its cool parkour exhibition, “Brick Mansions” doesn’t offer Detroit any of that. It offers only some mediocre entertainment and more of the same, liberal, utopian answers that don’t work, can’t work and make the work of the people who might actually help Detroit all the harder.

Content advisory:

  • “Brick Mansions,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 45 obscenities and profanities.
  • The movie contains a high amount of physical violence, particularly stylized hand-to-hand combat, incorporating elements of parkour and martial arts. There are also several car chases and gunfight scenes. Bloodshed is kept to a minimum to preserve the PG-13 rating, but there’s just as much implied bloodshed as you might see in an R-rated film.
  • The film contains a few shirtless guys and some innuendo, but the primary sexuality surrounds two female characters, both dressed in skimpy costume (schoolgirl and prostitute memes), especially in a scene where they fight one another, which is a shamelessly exploitive display, ala mud wrestling, but without the mud. The prostitute also menaces the schoolgirl with a knife and sexual come-ons.
  • The final credits roll to the song “I’m the Man,” which has some lyrics about God, and there are several scenes in a run-down warehouse that has explicitly Satanic graffiti painted on the walls.

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