Saturday, August 1, 2015


Being Irish, or at least Irish-American, and being at least somewhat informed about Irish history, I’m ambivalent about the British. And even if I wasn’t from the auld sod, I think I would feel that way. Tweedy types with pipes, going on and on about stiff upper lips and the Queen, and all that rot. I have, however, developed a fondness for Downton Abbey. And they have The Beatles, and the Stones (and the Who, and later Elvis Costello), and I love all of them. Then again, they play soccer, the most boring game ever invented (cricket being the most confusing), and they eat blood pudding and kidney pie, and Masterpiece Theater and Upstairs Downstairs can both be a snore. They’re pretentious, those Brits, spelling things with re at the end instead of er, and they talk weird. And except for Monty Python, those BBC comedies are mostly awful. I don’t get half the jokes, and I’m sure I would not think they were funny if I did.

But never let it be said that I am not willing to try something new. I really liked Brighton Rock, with Sam Riley, so when I was looking through Netflix for my next movie to review, I saw that he was in a thriller called 13. It’s a remake of a French thriller called 13 Tzameti, and I wondered what it would be like to see a French movie seen through a British lens with my thoroughly American eyes. At least it wasn’t a comedy. I mean, the French like Jerry Lewis, and seeing Jerry Lewis interpreted by people who think Hetty Wainwright in Keeping Up Appearances is funny sounded somewhere beyond absurd, completely inscrutable, a Zen Koan told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying …. Well, it just didn’t sound funny.

And then I realized that just because it had Sam Riley, Ronald Winstone, and Jason Statham in it, it wasn’t necessarily British. It also has 50 cent, Mickey Rourke, and Ben Gazzarra, and was produced in the United States. Maybe Rourke and Statham got to drinking on the set of The Expendables and decided to make another movie where each plays, well, the characters they always play—tough guys. Statham does the Silent Man thing, an angry missile of a man looking to blow up anything he can, and Rourke plays an eccentric whacko who is also pretty damned tough (this time out as a cowboy from Texas). His accent sounds like Texas, or at least like Mickey Rourke doing a Texas accent.

Sam Riley plays an American guy named Vince Ferro who overhears a dying guy talking about making a lot of money, and he impersonates him and ends up in a tournament where groups of guys play Russian roulette for rich sponsors who bet gads of money on them. It was done better in The Deer Hunter. This savage “sport” is open to all comers, so I guess that is why you have that hands across the water thing. And to round things out, the director of the original French movie, Gela Babluani, directed this one too. If the remake was faithful to the original, then the French version was awful. The three countries involved should have to play the game, but instead of a bullet to the head, the loser takes responsibility for the movie.

In bit parts, you have Andrew Skaarsgard (True Blood) and Michael Shannon (from Boardwalk Empire, and who played, in a great turn, serial-killing-hit-man-killer Richard Kuklinski in Ice Man). All the guys in this movie have made great movies, in fact, but like all-star teams often do, they add up to less than the sum of their parts.

There have been movies with great ensemble casts (It’s a Mad Mad World comes to mind) and there have been ensemble movies about people who’ve got nothing to lose risking it all at near impossible odds on the slim chance for freedom or a bundle of cash (The Dirty Dozen, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? The Magnificent Seven) but most of these kinds of movies stink on ice (the movie is bloody bollocks, is what I mean to say), like The Poseidon Adventure did, and this one truly does.

There are all kinds of side bets and sub plots in the excruciating “plot”, but they seem like they are there merely to get the flick out past 90 minutes. The thing that can make a movie like this good is caring about the characters, or hating them, or being concerned, anyway, about what happens to them. Of course, Riley wins (the other finalist is Winstone, and of course the plan of an evil plotter, who I will not name, is to not let Riley get away with his winnings. Either the bad guys, or the cops, are going to get Ferro (Ray Liotta turned down the role of the detective, which is a shame, because his turns as a crooked cop in Narc and Avenue of the Pines were fantastic), and there has to be a twist at the end, or two. What they come up with is worthy of an episode of Magnum PI.

Not only are the characters not memorable, they are hardly distinguishable, even as types. At least give each guy some kind of gimmick of shtick to identify him with. The only guy who stands out is Rourke, and that is because of the bad accent (Riley does better with an American one). Winstone and Statham are interchangeable, sinister British guys, except that Winstone is older and not as buff. You know that in the end it is going to come down to two guys, and it does. Will they both make it, like Charles Bronson and James Coburn in The Dirty Dozen, or like Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven? Of course not, it’s Russian roulette.

Maybe these actors all get together and cut deals about which movies they get to live in. Steve McQueen makes it in Magnificent Seven, but not in The Great Escape. And Bronson makes it in Dirty Dozen, but not in The Magnificent Seven. I was not surprised to see who the last guy standing in this movie was. When it was in the theater, I bet no one was either. And instead of trying to be a noir thriller about amoral people who are all doomed, or about existential heroes who are doomed to try and be heroes (and are also just plain doomed), it converts itself into the final scene into a saccharine parable about greed.

The one level this interests me on is that of urban legend. Really rich people can do just about anything they want, but do they do things like this? Do they hunt other humans for sport (see Surviving The Game with Ice T) too? I mean, I don’t believe the one about the gigantic alligators in the NYC sewers, but this seems somehow plausible. I hope it isn’t.

© 2015 Mike Welch

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