13: Film Review

Géla Babluani's English-language remake of his French debut loses the source's gritty, mysterious gloom

Tbilisi-born French filmmaker Géla Babluani remakes his 2005 claustrophobic shocker 13 Tzameti with an English-speaking cast including Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke.

NEW YORK — As leaden as the bullets whose random behavior it revolves around, Géla Babluani's 13 fails to recapture the sweaty tension of his original 13 Tzameti, a French import that reeked of style and first-timer ambition. A name cast and appealingly pulpy premise aren't likely to help the film much in a theatrical run, but should boost appeal for the nearly simultaneous DVD release on November 8.

Though he's backgrounded in the film's key art (behind co-stars Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke and others), Sam Riley really stars in 13 as Vince, an electrician whose family's mounting medical bills — communicated in scenes as unimaginatively scripted as a 30-second TV spot urging health-care reform — have made him desperate to raise cash. Having overheard his boss discuss a mysterious, dangerous job (he'll be set for life, he says, "if I make it") just before dying of a drug overdose, Vince steals an envelope containing the assignment.

After following the cloak-and-dagger instructions within (and evading the G-men on his tail), Vince arrives at an estate where a ghoulish game is played. (If not quite The Most Dangerous Game, this film owes plenty to that old rich-men-hunting-the-poor tale.) In a marble hall, 20 or so men stand in a circle, each pointing a revolver at the person in front of him. Each gun holds one bullet in a chamber spun Russian Roulette-style, and they all fire at once while observers bet on who will survive.

Viewers will be good oddsmakers here, betting that Riley's fellow players Rourke and Ray Winstone will survive the tournament's early rounds although Babluani generates remarkably little heat in the milliseconds before players are signaled to pull their triggers. A slumming Michael Shannon tries to help by lending hammy quirks to his character, a referee who shouts instructions to those about to die. But this performance -- like that of Ben Gazarra, a wizened gambler giving philosophical pep talks to one of the players -- has a heightened, menacing weirdness more suited to the original film than to the current one, where subplots involving Statham and Curtis Jackson play out as straightforward (and undercooked) genre fare.

That original film's claustrophobic mood owed much to Tariel Meliava's art-noir black-and-white photography; the remake doesn't benefit from a switch to color, nor from the Tbilisi-born Babluani's flat, uninspired English-language dialogue. Viewers would be wise to hunt the 2005 film down instead of watching this one. And Babluani might be smart to start with someone else's screenplay if he gets to make another film in English.

Opens: October 28 (Anchor Bay)
Production Companies: Overnight Productions, Morabito Picture Company, Magnet Media
Cast: Sam Riley, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone, Michael Shannon, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Ben Gazzara, Emmanuelle Chriqui
Director-screenwriter: Géla Babluani
Producers: Rick Schwartz, Aaron Kaufman, Valerio Morabito
Executive producers: Brian Edwards, Jeanette Buerling, Maggie Monteith
Director of photography: Michael McDonough
Production designer: Jane Musky
Music: Alexander Van Bubbenheim

Costume designer: Amy Westcott
Editors: Géla Babluani, David Gray    
Rated R, 90 minutes