Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writer: David Birke, Daniel Stamm
Producer: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Steven Squillante, Kiki Miyake
Stars: Mark Webber, Rutina Wesley, Devon Graye, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Richard Burgi, Tom Bower, Ron Perlman
When a phone call from a mysterious stranger offers a million dollar prize for completing 13 challenges, Elliot Brindle finds himself in a contest that tests every limit of his character.
Heaven help the 99% if everyday entertainment like music, movies, and television ever becomes too pedestrian for the Billionaire Boredom Club. According to genre films, it is basically a given that diabolical plots of impossible scope are the only surefire cure for a rich person’s ennui, and us Average Joes will be the fodder for that cannon.
The Zoe Bell thriller “Raze” showcases kidnapped women pit-fighting in a fatal battle royale for the closed-circuit amusement of Rockefeller types unsatisfied with the passé violence of a UFC cage match. The more hands-on variety of upturned noses with money to burn has Eli Roth’s “Hostel” to scratch their perverted pleasure itch. And then there is the shadowy Illuminati group pulling the puppet strings on the global game featured in “13 Sins.” At least the “13 Sins” elite have some misguided moral motivation of inspiring the meek to summon a fighting strength they never knew was in them.
Elliot Brindle is such a born failure with the world’s worst luck that the only thing he might excel at would be a job as a cooler in a Las Vegas casino. Already up to his thinning hairline in debt, Elliot has a pregnant fiancée, a racist father evicted from a retirement home, and a mentally handicapped brother whose medical insurance is expired. As if this did not add up to financial trouble enough, the summons to his boss’ office results in an unexpected firing instead of a presumed promotion.
Then an out of the blue phone call from an unknown man offers one thousand dollars to hurt a fly, which is just the first elbow nudge from the movie’s not-always-subtle sense of humor. Challenge #2 triples the reward if Elliot agrees to eat the fly. Once that is out of the way, Elliot is given the option to keep completing increasingly difficult tasks all the way up to challenge #13 and a seven-figure cash prize.
It doesn’t take the Delphi Oracle to divine where things go from here. “13 Sins” plays out as a less gore-focused version of “Saw” where a mysterious mastermind challenges a “why me?” Everyman to run a gauntlet of macabre mania that could not possibly take place in the real world, yet makes for one inventively entertaining movie.
It initially appears as though director and co-writer Daniel Stamm, adapting the 2006 Thai thriller “13: Game of Death,” might be leaning on so glib of a tone that even he does not take his own script seriously enough. Elliot’s confrontation with his Rick Roma of a supervisor includes an on-the-nose aside of bossman cracking walnuts while giving Elliot a verbal pink slip in the form of an emasculating tongue lashing.
Yet as “13 Sins” spins further into wild territory with its premise, Stamm accompanies the suspense and the horror with moments involving an ostrich, the dorky wardrobe of a cartoon rabbit t-shirt, and even a goofy “Weekend at Bernie’s” homage. What Stamm is really doing is giving a wink to the audience that lets them know he is in on the joke. “13 Sins” merely wishes to have a good time with its concept without going overboard on justifying disbelief with too sincere of a theme.
“13 Sins” boasts a great supporting cast, though more than a few of them serve no nobler purposes than as red herrings or conveniently placed exposition dumps. Rutina Wesley is a terrific actress, but buying no-nonsense tough girl Tara Thornton from “True Blood” as sad sack Elliot’s doting wife is a stretch. Ron Perlman slides in as smoothly as ever, yet his detective’s ultimate value is also questionable. Still, the occasional plot contrivance only requests as much absolution from the audience as is absolutely necessary to keep the clip moving speedily.
Imagine Bill Gates or Warren Buffett secretly sitting in their presumably palatial estates sipping a vintage Chateau Lafite Rothschild as they watch some Johnny Lunchpail fight through increasingly dire scenarios while the rest of us make do with an NCAA Final Four game. If that notion makes you chuckle, being on board with the style of “13 Sins” is an easy proposition. If that seems like such a far-fetched idea that it elicits eye-rolling anger, “13 Sins” probably will too.
Stabbing holes in the details and logic of “13 Sins” is like bazooka-blasting fish in a Dixie cup. Of course the scenario is unrealistic. “13 Sins” implies that the JFK assassination was a challenge for contestant Lee Harvey Oswald, after all. But that is why it is called “escapist entertainment.” Instead, occupy the time with mulling over the puzzle of where “13 Sins” is headed next and becoming absorbed in its mystery can end up turning into a great deal of mind-teasing fun.
Review Score: 80