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It’s always kind of weird when a director decides to remake his or her own movie in another language. If you’ve already tackled the material in your native tongue, why in the world would you want to rework the material for those unfortunate individuals who simply refuse to read subtitles? It boggles the mind. Sadly, Géla Babluani’s “13” — an adaptation of his critically-acclaimed thriller “13 Tzameti” — loses something in translation, due in part to some unintentionally cheesy melodrama courtesy of veteran actors Jason Statham and Ray Winstone, both of whom look bored out of their skulls. And I honestly can’t blame them. Much to my surprise, “13” is an exceptional bore, a shadow of the original film on which it’s based. No wonder it sat on the shelf for so long.
Sam Riley (“Franklyn”) stars as Vince, a struggling electrician who finds himself in a bit of a financial pickle. It seems that his father is in need of a very expensive surgery, one that poor Vince simply can’t afford. His mother, a waitress at a local restaurant, is no position to finance the procedure, either, forcing this dedicated young man to take drastic measures to save his father’s life. After stealing a secret invitation to a strange underground tournament, Vince embarks on a journey into the dark world of Russian roulette, a game that’s sponsored by wealthy aristocrats and shady businessman inside a sprawling mansion in the middle of nowhere. Our hero, of course, is shell-shocked by this revelation, and soon discovers that he’s way in over his head.
The first 45 minutes of “13” are engaging. Although it moves at an unusual pace, the story is engrossing and genuinely effective. You feel for Vince and his situation, appreciate the lengths the young man will go to keep his father alive. His journey into the seedy underbelly of the human condition is dark, horrifying, and very intense. Getting to peek behind the curtain of this blood-soaked event is also refreshing. Rarely do you get to see this sort of scenario presented in such a believable fashion. Michael Shannon, who plays the proverbial master of ceremonies, barks orders not from a gilded throne or a cozy control room, but from a rickety ladder positioned towards the center of the room. It’s these little details that make “13” feel authentic, and, for a while, it works.
Once the tournament in underway, the script beings to fall apart. Mickey Rourke’s character, yet another variation of the curmudgeons he portrays on a regular basis, is extraneous, and offers nothing whatsoever to the central storyline. He comes across like some sort of bizarre comic relief, a “human interest” subplot to lighten the tone of this admittedly bleak and depressing motion picture. And while I’m quick to the point the finger of blame at the cast for sleepwalking through the entire experience, a lot of the major problems are directly related to the picture’s score. During an emotional exchange between Ray Winstone and Jason Statham, the music swells to impossibly goofy levels. Hallmark original movies can’t even begin to touch the cues utilized here.
For the love of God, people. Read subtitles. It’s really not that difficult. Before investing any sort of time into the remake, strongly consider snagging a copy of Géla Babluani’s “13 Tzameti” and see the story the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Trust me when I say it’s worth the hassle of “reading a movie”. Even if you applaud the picture’s remarkably strong first half, you have to admit that the last 30 minutes simply cannot keep up. To make matters worse, the flick marches lethargically towards an inevitable conclusion that’s essentially robbed of its power. Every single member of the cast is wasted, though rising star Sam Riley and professional badass Michael Shannon certainly give it their all. If, for some strange reason, you feel the inexplicable urge to waste 90 minutes of your life on this disappointing chunk of cinematic mediocrity, at least you’ll know there are at least two strong performances in the chamber. My advice: Track down “13 Tzameti”, instead.
Géla Babluani (director) / Géla Babluani (screenplay)
CAST: Jason Statham … Jasper
Alexander Skarsgard … Jack
Mickey Rourke … Jefferson
Michael Shannon … Henry
Emmanuelle Chriqui … Aileen
Ray Winstone … Ronald Lynn
50 Cent … Jimmy
Gaby Hoffmann … Clara
David Zayas … Detective Larry Mullane
Sam Riley … Vince
Ben Gazzara … Schlondorff