REVIEW: Impressive Cast Mills About Listlessly in Dumb, Lumpy 13
Alfred Hitchcock and Cecil B. DeMille might have been able to successfully redo their own movies, but more recent auto-remakes, especially ones that find directors cranking out a U.S. version of their own foreign-language hit, have been a motley crew. The best, like Michael Haneke's 2007 Funny Games and Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge, tend to be merely functional enterprises that revisit what worked the first time around with added English-speaking and possibly more famous actors. But others highlight in a painfully clear way the compromises that so often come with working in Hollywood. Ole Bornedal's wan Nightwatch lost the nasty edge of the Danish original and retained no other distinguishing characteristics, and George Sluizer's 1993 The Vanishing ditched the finale of his 1988 Spoorloos, an uncompromisingly bleak and great ending, for a studio-friendly happy one that undoes everything toward which the first film built.
So 13, Géla Babluani's remake of his own French 2005 thriller about an underground Russian roulette ring 13 Tzameti, doesn't come from the most promising tradition, before you even take into account that it's been bumping around in international release for well over a year. It does at least have an impressive -- really, kind of amazing -- cast. Sam Riley, so good as Ian Curtis in Control, is the naïve lead, Vince. Michael Shannon, Jason Statham, Ray Winstone, Mickey Rourke, Alexander Skarsgård and Ben Gazzara all appear, as do, somewhat less remarkably, 50 Cent and Emmanuelle Chriqui. Few of these folks make an impression, which isn't really their fault (except for 50 Cent, who delivers his lines with a singularly enervating lack of intonation) so much as it's a function of how the film is structured. Both the original and this new 13 are, depending on your worldview, either odd variations on the deadly tournament formula or bleak ones on extreme gambling, but they are also about a group of desperate men who don't have a lot of time to spend talking about their feelings.
At least they shouldn't. This actually becomes part of the problem with 13: This is a lumpy, dumb, suspenseless thing that sometimes scarcely feels finished. The original gets most of its juice from its minimalism -- done in black-and-white and starring Babluani's brother George in his first acting role, it lets the audience in on its premise only when its main character figures it out, after he's taken the place of his smack-addicted employer and disappeared down a very dangerous rabbit hole. This 13 starts off with a cheap-looking title card, followed by a shot of money being counted and then a flash of Vince and another man pointing guns at one another, as if the audience would drift away if they weren't promised violent intrigue right off the bat. And they might -- the film's introduction listlessly outlines the tough situation in which Vince's family has ended up, having had to sell their house to pay for his father's medical care, and cuts in backstory for Statham's Jasper, a shady figure who borrows $2 million for purposes we'll soon learn. Neither thread offers much interest.
13 may actually have been undone by its own added resources and flashier cast. The beefing up of Jasper's storyline, which unfolds over awkward flashbacks to show his retrieving of his brother Ronald (Winstone) from a mental institution, and the even more clumsily handled background on Rourke's Jefferson, who is shown to have been retrieved from a prison in Juarez, do 13 no favors. The film grinds to a halt with each jump back in time, which seem to have been put there primarily to placate the stars in these roles by giving them more to work with. A drama about a Russian roulette tourney is a less-is-more proposition -- the more detail that's offered, the more questions come to mind and the more you start to believe, as is inevitable in this case, that the premise is hopelessly silly and hardly warrants this kind of steady seriousness.
Shannon vampily oversees the proceedings, dictating the rules, which involve increasing the number of bullets and the odds of death in each round, and waiting for the illumination of a lightbulb before firing. Ronald reveals himself to be Vince's primary rival, though he, like many of the participants, likes to retain an illusion of control. There's talk of the value of experience, of skill, as if what's at play here were anything other than blind luck. It's actually the one thing that could have benefited from more exploration in what has to be the most inert film about millionaires betting on the ritualized shootings of morphine-addled outcasts ever -- the way these men have chosen to look at and, in some way, normalize the barbaric thing they're doing. That it's left hanging is just another reason 13 is such a disappointment. Nothing to see here.