Many directors remake their own films, with varying results. But some foreign made stuff just doesn’t translate well into Hollywood from its more abstract, Euro-centric sensibilities and unfortunately Gela Babluani’s 13 falls victim to that, and hard. You can gloss it up all you want with studio dollars or cast as many heavy hitter actors to pad the lining, but if you do the shot-for-shot thing and ape what you did the first time around, it can just feel weird, awkward and unbecoming. I’ve never seen the original film (also called 13) but I could just simply tell by the structure and tone here that Babluani tried to literally translate his initial piece and the results are just plain bizarre.
This story tells of a super scary underground Russian roulette competition in which handlers enter mentally unstable rejects into an intense round robin of revolvers to the head, with maniacal sports commentator Michael Shannon playing ringmaster and chewing more scenery than he did in The Shape Of Water, which is really saying a lot. Sam Riley, an actor I’ve always greatly admired and seen as underrated, plays a young dude who’s down on his luck and enters this ordeal not fully knowing what he’s up against. The thing here is that several standalone aspects really do work and are interesting, but they’re too episodic and disjointed to pulley the film together into something that makes sense and doesn’t feel cobbled together from used parts. Mickey Rourke is terrific as a jaded ex-con competitor who’s just looking for a way out, but he classes up anything he’s in as a given. Jason Statham plays a posh handler whose fighter (Ray Winstone, also great) is an unhinged lunatic. 50 Cent is also there because I’m pretty sure there’s some clause in low budget genre films where he has to appear in every third one or something (seriously, look at his IMDb). The great Ben Gazzara turns up, obviously wracked with the illness that would end him a few years later, but you’ve gotta hand it to the guy for showing up at all given his condition. Others are around including Alexander Skarsgard, David Zayas, Wayne Duvall and Emmanuelle Chriqui but they’re mostly lost in the shuffle.
The scenes of Russian roulette are intense enough but not too affecting because we don’t give a shart about the characters, apart from perhaps Rourke. This ain’t no Deer Hunter in terms of scenes like that. Your best bet is to check out the original I suppose, which I still have to do. This one has a fantastic cast who are all just tossed to the wind in a flurry of shoddy editing and suspiciously slapdash storytelling. Shame.
Gun is one of the countless disposable B grade flicks that 50 Cent insists on starring in, for some reason. I mean, the guy got rich, he didn’t die trying, he’s set up for a few lifetimes and he just won’t quit showing up in direct to DVD genre stuff, it’s amusingly weird and I’d love to one day ask him why. Maybe he just really enjoys acting, in which case I say go for it, but maybe with an agent who’s a bit choosier at the script roulette table. This one also stars Val Kilmer, a similarly afflicted actor who’s recently been slumming it, but the two aren’t half bad here as a powerful gun runner (fiddy) and his old prison buddy (Vally) who’s looking for a job. What the big guy doesn’t know is that Kilmer is has actually been tagged by the Feds as an informant, which turns the situation into a powder keg of betrayal and secrets that could get lit any minute. The real scene stealer here is James Remar as a dogged vice detective who has been consumed by the task of taking them both down, he puts actual grit and feeling into the role and seems to be a guest star from a way better film. Others include beauty queen Annalynne McCord as a dangerous rival arms dealer, a quick cameo from Danny Trejo playing his usual brand of aggressive thug, and strangely enough John Larroquette as well, who I swear I haven’t seen in anything since Richie Rich back in the 90’s. You could do worse for this kind of fare, but it’s nothing special.
Streets Of Blood more like Streets Of Crud. Maybe I’m being a little harsh but from what I remember this thing is a huge, huge whack of disappointment when you look at the capable, wasted cast and the premise ripe with potential. Val Kilmer and Curtis 50 Cent Jackson are slick New Orleans cops investigating the corruption and death in their department following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sounds cool eh? Not so much. Most of it is noisy, incomprehensible shootouts in soggy, dilapidated warehouses and faux intense verbal standoffs in dank interrogation rooms that have no payoff because they had no discernible setup or pacing. It’s not the actors faults, they’re not even half bad. Kilmer does a flashy Orleans drawl that echoes his famous Tombstone accent. Sharon Stone even shows up as an ice queen DA,
looking like a forgotten First Lady. These fine talents just can’t rise above the muck of a half assed script that’s more hollow than the waterlogged buildings they chase suspects through. Not even the great Michael Biehn can save the day, showing up as a nasty, accusatory FBI agent that you just know will turn out to be part of the conspiracy later (I’d feel sorry spoiling that if it weren’t so blatantly obvious right off the bat). It’s a shame no one remakes B movies and gives what could have been a cool concept another shot, because they blew this one pretty bad, and produced a bigger mess than Katrina herself did.
Nicolas Cage has been on a seemingly never-ending rampage of starring roles in some… odd flicks post mid 2000’s, and it can seem like kind of a quagmire to navigate through them without landing yourself a turd (one day I’ll do a comprehensive flow chart so everyone knows which ones to avoid). There are some pretty great films scattered throughout though, and Scott Walkers’s The Frozen Ground is one I’ve always enjoyed and wish it got a little more hype. Cage ditches the crazy and seems down to earth here in a stone cold, somber tale based on the hunt and capture of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, here played by John Cusack in his nastiest, most skin crawling role. Cage is Robert Halcombe, a real life state trooper who bonded with a teenage sex worker (Vanessa Hudgens) who once escaped Hansen’s clutches and tries to track the guy down, as well as prove that he’s the monster killing girls out there on the tundra. What ensues is a gritty, episodic police procedural that earns the 1970’s cop thriller vibe it’s going for, showcases stunning and eerie Alaskan photography and tells a powerful, suspenseful and at times repellant story. Cage is earnest and relatable,
Cusack is despicable without getting campy or going over the top, an everyday monster whose laid back facade make the darkness just below even scarier when we’re forced to be privy to his crimes, filmed with raw frankness. Most impressive though is Vanessa Hudgens, who I didn’t pay much attention to until this, but gives a visceral portrait of fear and determination, believable every step of the way. There’s a galaxy of supporting work from Dean Norris, Brad William Henke, Michael McGrady, Kevin Dunn, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Matt Gerald, Radha Mitchell and 50 Cent as a pimp with a mullet (lol). It works as a moody thriller, a docudrama and mutual character study of Cage and Hudgen’s roles, as well as being scary in the right places.