Man will bet on anything. You’ve got your traditional betting that’s done at casinos like poker and blackjack and others done with a local bookie on football and boxing. Some folks even like to bet on back alley dog fights. But if 13, Géla Babluani’s remake of his own film 13 Tzameti, is to be believed, then that kind of previously mentioned betting is for chumps. The really powerful and rich like to place big wagers on higher stakes — human life. And for the 90 minutes or so of running time, the viewer is given a glimpse into this world where the desperate, in a round robin game of Russian Roulette, are used as throwaway game pieces.
On paper, this premise is mildly intriguing. Watching it unfold, however, is not.
Vince (Sam Riley) does side jobs as an electrician. It’s an honest living, but it doesn’t pay a helluva lot. After his dad is hospitalized, saddling the family with massive debt, Vince resorts to some minor identity theft — he steals a secretive invitation delivered to the house he’s working at. What the invite is for, he isn’t sure. All he knows is there is a big payoff for successfully getting whatever needs to be done, done.
It’s then off to Chicago, the city of dirty politics and brazen gamblers. Tension is high, but Vince handles it better than I would, perhaps, however, better than he should. There are others — 20 or so — looking to risk their lives for the promise of something better. There are also a few in the mix that are not a part of the festivities by their own volition — they’re just hoping to get out alive.
Load in one bullet. Spin. Point. Fire. Click, click, click, bang, click, click, bang, bang, click. Have a drink. Load in two bullets. Spin. Point. Fire. Bang, Bang, click, bang, click, click. You get the idea. What’s supposed to be heightened scenes instead get rather monotonous to watch, unless of course you’ve got a cool million or two riding on your contestant to live or die (which conspicuously I didn’t). Knowing this possible fate, Babluani tries to weave in character drama between murder rounds with little success. There’s conniving Jasper (Jason Statham) who signs his brother Ronald (Ray Winstone) up to participate. Ronald, a past winner, isn’t happy his dear old brother has been keeping all the gains for himself while he’s taking all the risk. Jefferson (Mickey Rourke), is brought in from Mexico and tries to barter his escape with his keeper, Jimmy (50 Cent). Vince and his shadow, Jack (Alexander Skarsgård), almost make small talk. Other guys have nervous breakdowns and what not.
It’s a strong cast Babluani has assembled for 13, yet they don’t (can’t is probably a better word) elevate the material they’re given (I have my serious doubts whether they were able to do more than the original cast). Rourke, is a goddamn mess, although truth be told, it is an asset to his playing these dilapidated characters he always seems to find himself typecast as. He’s given some halfwit backstory that has no consequence to anything going on. I’ve always said (and if I didn’t, I’ve meant to) if you want a guy for high intensity ass kicking and little else, you call Jason Statham. He doesn’t throw a single punch, so his appearance is relegated to stern faces and looking rather silly donning a fedora. Riley and Winstone are the two given the most to work with. Riley, at least during the heat of the “action,” appears to be visibly shaken and incredulous to the situation he’s gotten himself into. On some level he is relatable — we’re all one step away from the abyss nowadays — but I couldn’t find myself hoping he’d make it out alive. Winstone is an unlikable, angry son of a bitch who taunts his fellow “players” with a mean spirit (which I guess is a necessity — no sense in friendly jabs, seeing as the outcome of the game is to kill the other players). I kinda liked his ways.
It basically comes down to the lack of directorial flair from Babluani, although his script, co-written with Greg Pruss, is just as guilty for this dramatic thriller not dramatizing or thrilling. There’s a whole lotta nothing going — so much so that one could walk away for an extended period of time, return and know exactly what is going on. While it may have been good for the roulette players to have their opponents guns loaded with blanks, it isn’t so good that 13 is fully loaded with them. Avoid like a head shot.