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STUDIO: Anchor Bay
RATED: R (for disturbing violence, language, and brief drug use)
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
Russian Roulette with a spin.
Sam Riley, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke
Hollywood clearly learned nothing from The Vanishing.
In 2006, Georgian/French director Géla Babluani introduced himself to the cinematic world with a sinister little film called 13 Tzameti. The tale of a young man whose need for some quick cash leads him unexpectedly to an underground Russian Roulette ring gripped viewers with its minimalist style, black-and-white photography, and ever-building tension. With all the attention (not to mention a few awards) it garnered, a Hollywood remake was all but guaranteed. Before you could say “Didi mau!”, the remake machine revved up its gears but with one important difference from most other remakes: Babluani was brought on for the remake. With a fairly impressive cast that included Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Michael Shannon, Alexander Skarsgård, Ray Winstone, Ben Gazzara, and a lead performance by rising star Sam Riley, 13 seemed like a surefire hit. And then it seemed to disappear completely, with the exception of one inconspicuous opening in, of all places, Greece. With 13 finally being available on home video thanks to Anchor Bay we’ll finally have the answer to the question, “What happened?”.
The main problem with 13 is that it assumes you’ve seen already seen Tzameti. Whether from Babluani not wanting to repeat himself or new co-writer Greg Pruss asserting his Hollywood influence (this film definitely subscribes to the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy), the remake essentially throws out the basic plot and substitutes it for an in-depth exploration of the world itself. Because of the shift in focus from character to mechanism, the plot almost seems secondary. Babluani swiftly accomplishes this by revealing within the very first minute who makes it to the final duel. Suspense? Nah…
So what we’re left with is a closer look at the (fictional, I hope) underground world of Russian Roulette. This would’ve been successful had had the filmmakers actually made the world itself interesting. Even though it’s clear Babluani wants to intrigue the viewer we get no information about the people running the games, and the attempts to show the background of two of the participants, Rourke’s 17 and Winstone’s 6, are weak enough to make you wonder why they even bothered. Throwing in another sub-plot about a cop (David Zayas) trying to bust the underground ring only deepens the notion that 13 (Riley) is a bit player in what should be his own story. Although the cast appears to have doubled from the original, Babluani simply does not know what to do with them. Any film that wastes six OZ alums is beyond redemption if you ask me.
The other problem with the film is the fact that, when you really think about it, the game itself is quite ridiculous. The players line up in a circle and point a gun at the person in front of them, with a light bulb hanging in the center of the circle being their cue to fire. This sounds ingenious until you realize it all depends on dumb luck. The only way to survive is if the person behind you pulls the trigger on an empty chamber (the round dictates how many bullets you receive) or if the person two behind you kills the person behind you before they can shoot you. Likewise, it’s in your best interest NOT to shoot until the person in front of you does, thus allowing him to possibly take out someone who might otherwise proceed to the next round. You have to fire regardless, so why not let someone kill a potential competitor for you first? And with only one pull of the trigger allowed per round, speed plays no role whatsoever. The only time speed is involved is during the final duel, where the remaining two participants face each other. However, if you don’t have a round in the chamber but the other person does, you’re fucked regardless of how quick you fire. Yes, I have put much more thought into this than it deserves.
Despite the absurdity of the plot, the cast is more than game. Riley is believable as the unwitting protagonist who’s in way over his head, Statham and Winstone make for pretty convincing brothers, Rourke is a hoot as a thief forced into the game against his own will, Skarsgård brings understated menace and mystery as one of Reilly’s mostly-silent handlers, Gazzara is appropriately bizarre as one of the handlers who spouts philosophy to his participant, and Shannon is as creepy as ever as the referee who lords over the proceedings. You have to wonder if it was the reputation of the original that drew them all in, or if there was an amazing original draft of the screenplay that somehow got butchered along the way. The actors are more than up to the challenge (‘Fiddy’, however, might not want to quit his day job), but the material is simply just not there. Also bringing much needed support are cinematographer Michael McDonough (Winter’s Bone) and composer Alexander van Bubenheim (Das Experiment).
While it’s admirable that Babluani wanted to expand on the world he created, it seems like he accomplished everything he needed to the first time around and probably wouldn’t have bothered had Hollywood not come calling. We might not know who exactly is to blame for remaking the unnervingly tense and intimate original into a cluttered and unfocused disappointment, but it’s saddening nonetheless. I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the original, but in comparison to the remake it almost seems like a hidden gem. If you’ve seen Tzameti there’s honestly no reason to see 13. If you haven’t seen Tzameti, give that one a shot (no pun intended).
Unless you count sub-titles as a special feature (please don’t) all you get are forced trailers for 5 Days of War and The Son of No One. McDonough’s cinematography is represented well, but the sound mix can be a bit spotty at times; I believe this to be a result of the production rather than the transfer. Unless you have money burning a hole through your pocket, this is a rental at best.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars