Thursday, September 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphilia: '13' (2010)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

The very first movie I ever wrote about for this feature was Gela Babluani's 13 Tzameti, and at that point an American remake was already on the way. Although 13 Tzameti garnered a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, and the American version seemed poise to break Babluani into the mainstream, 13 ended up sitting on the shelf for more than a year before limping into a tiny theatrical release and then immediately onto DVD. It's interesting to see how some fairly minor changes (the plots of the two movies are nearly identical) serve to make 13 a rather laughable thriller, while 13 Tzameti is a fairly effective mood piece.

One of the big differences is that the nature of the underground event that the main character (played here by Sam Riley) has gotten involved with is kept mysterious for the first half of 13 Tzameti, while here the movie opens immediately with Riley's Vince and Ray Winstone's Ronald pointing guns at each other's heads. So that image hangs over everything that comes afterward, and instead of the vague foreboding of the original, there's a kind of trumped-up suspense that feels very forced. There's more back story here, both for Vince and for some of his fellow players in the secret Russian roulette event, all of it completely superfluous padding that just serves to justify the presence of recognizable actors like Winstone, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke.

The minimalist style of Babluani's original helped carry it past the dopey plotting, but here the movie is so focused on the mechanics of the ridiculous tournament that there's nothing else to balance it. I don't know if Babluani was pressured by producers to direct in a more conventional style, or if it was his intention, but 13 ultimately emphasizes everything that was disappointing about the original (the actual details of the absurd competition) while losing everything that worked about it (the enigmatic narrative, the eerie atmosphere, the low-key style). The cast is filled with familiar faces whose talents (or lack thereof, in the case of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) are wasted, and the anticlimactic final act feels even more useless when framed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Maybe now that the movie has failed, Babluani can get back to some low-budget ingenuity.

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