Arguably not since “The Vanishing” has a director remade his foreign-language breakout feature to such diminishing returns as with “13,” Gela Babluani’s Americanized reworking of his “13 Tzameti” (2006). A starry cast and glossier production values simply work against the black-and-white original’s strengths in this stillborn thriller about a deadly game of chance, which has already opened in various territories and formats since early last year. Long-delayed U.S. launch on a single screen in New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 28 is likely to be just a B.O. blip, with improved Stateside results to come via imminent DVD/Blu-ray release.
His parents’ home having been mortgaged to pay for his dad’s operations, Vince (“Control’s” Sam Riley) takes another man’s place at a mysterious event with a purportedly huge payoff. When he shows up at an isolated mansion after following secret instructions, his sponsors are most displeased to discover he’s an impostor, but let him participate anyway, to his immediate regret. Turns out he’s now a player in a game of Russian roulette in which high-stakes gamblers place bets on the rapidly dwindling number of contestants.
Georgian writer-helmer Babluani’s French-language original had a Kafka-esque air due to its monochrome lensing, spartan settings and refusal to provide much backstory or other explication. Unfortunately, “13” makes all the predictable wrong decisions in order to appeal to more mainstream audiences. While the basic story remains the same, the remake (co-penned by Babluani and Greg Pruss) weakens its impact by introducing flashbacks to illustrate how some other players got here: Mickey Rourke’s character was smuggled from a Mexican prison by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and other investors; Jason Statham has regularly checked brother Ray Winstone out of a sanitorium for the game. There’s also the unnecessary sentimentalizing of Vince’s domestic situation, and time is dully wasted on a pursuing police detective (David Zayas).
None of this would matter if the central action were still startling and suspenseful. But the Hollywood upgrade manages to lose those qualities, in addition to the original’s black-comedy undercurrent, by applying a generic coat of Holly-wooden machismo that the testosterone-heavy thesps, most of them acting on glowering autopilot, only reinforce. Betraying the pic’s long sit on the shelf is the nondescript supporting role played by now-hot Alexander Skarsgard (billed here as “Alex”), plus the presence of Michael Shannon, who mercifully has better things to do these days and delivers a rare weak performance here as the game emcee.
Packaging is slick, but a major minus among design contributions is the score, which underlines every already-obvious emotion.