Reinforcing the popular notion that remakes are essentially low-reaching affairs that result from a lack of ideas, Georgian filmmaker Géla Babluani’s redo of his own 2005 film 13 (Tzameti) has been only superficially updated for American audiences. All it seems to do away with is the black-and-white cinematography and pesky subtitles of the French original, and the result is boring, which isn’t to say it’s particularly better or worse than its artier predecessor. At least Michael Haneke’s Americanized remake of his own Funny Games had the exercise of rigorous technical adherence to its predecessor to justify its existence.
Were the cast of 13 so lucky. This stale Hollywood side dish (figuratively and literally; the film’s been sitting on the shelf for over a year) purports some kind of deep moral inquisition, but the filmmakers are so generally clueless about getting the most out of a provocative concept that it’s like running into a subtextual brick wall. Sam Riley is Vince, a young man whose family is in dire need of money following the hospitalization of his father. Chance sees his interception of a dead man’s mysterious letter, complete with instructions and the promise of gold at the end of the rainbow. Naïvely filling the shoes of the departed, Sam follows the directions and soon finds himself both an unexpected guest and a mandatory participant in a large-scale and bet-upon tournament of Russian Roulette being conducted in the underground quarters of a reclusive mansion. If he doesn’t play, they’ll kill him.
Despite even the wonderfully foaming-at-the-mouth presence of Michael Shannon as the overseer of this sick game, it’s a scenario the film merely leers over with slack voyeurism, squandering its considerable acting talent in the name of limp drama and even limper social commentary; and it’s giving the film the benefit of the doubt to even say that there’s any commentary here at all. While Babluani couldn’t have foreseen the recent explosion of long-suppressed anxiety and rage at our destructive class infrastructure manifesting itself in the Occupy movement, he could have subversively drawn lines between 13’s wealthy pawn movers and the self-serving fat cats who’ve long been giving other wealthy Americans a bad name. Without a bridge to reality, there’s only depraved distraction, and the only notable thing about it is how useless and self-defeating its cynicism is.