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Marshall Fine

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Movie Review: 13

Posted: 11/02/11 09:22 AM ET

Every once in a while a new actor pops up in a handful of movies all at once -- and either catches fire (like Jessica Chastain this year) or doesn't.

But even the ones who don't get launched still have that moment: when someone (an agent, a manager) somehow convinced a bunch of people at the very same time that this kid was going to be big. The pitch was apparently convincing enough that the agent booked the actor in several projects back to back -- right up until the first one hit screens and audiences (and critics) got a look at him.

Then suddenly, it's adios, pal -- straight from the head of the line back to the middle of the pack. It's the definition of being the flavor of the month -- except that the results are in a kind of time warp because movies get made so long before they actually hit screens. These days, it can be literally years, given the topsy-turvy world that film distribution has become.

This month's flavor is Sam Riley, who shows up in 13, a remake of a French film from six years ago, shot in the U.S. by the same director, Gela Babluani, who made the original film (titled 13 Tzameti). Riley stunk up the joint earlier this year in the dreadful Brighton Rock -- and 13 shows that the kid's greatest talent, unfortunately, was selecting the agent who got him this work.

Not that 13 would have been better without him. It's a one-trick movie, with prefab suspense but also prefab plotting to undercut said suspense.

Riley, whose perpetual facial expression seems to convey chronic stomach distress, plays Vince, a young electrician in Ohio whose father is in critical condition in the hospital, requiring surgery more expensive than what Vince can raise by taking a second mortgage on the house. Vince comes into possession of a document with instructions, according to the paper's previous owner, that could lead to instant wealth for a mere day's activity. What that activity is, however, goes unmentioned.

Desperate, Vince takes the place of the document's previous owner (conveniently dead of a drug overdose). He winds up as one contestant in what amounts of a round-robin Russian roulette tournament at a remote mansion. There's a crowd, of course, wagering on who will live and die. With each round, the number of competitors decreases; with each round, another bullet is added to the cylinder.

The contestants are all nobodies, with the exception of Riley, Mickey Rourke and Ray Winstone. The crowd of onlookers includes Jason Statham (as Winstone's brother), Fifty Cent, Ben Gazzara and Michael Shannon, as the guy who shouts the ritualized instructions for each round.

It's not hard to set an audience's nerves on edge by showing men with guns to each other's heads. Yet that trick somehow eludes Babluani; the longer the film goes on, the less interested you become because, of course, the uninteresting Riley (his face in a constant cringe) has to survive. His survival is the death of an already doomed movie's chances of holding your interest.


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