What a difference time can make. Time is an important factor with The Thirteenth Floor. And it is with time that The Thirteenth Floor fails. The film runs too long and was released too late. These aren’t its only failings though.
On the 13th floor of some corporate building, a project is being tested. This ultra-secret and ambitious project allows for people to jack into a computer-generated world. Are the people in the computer-generated world are so real that they could come out and hurt someone in the “real” world? The world generated by the computer is of Los Angeles around 1937.
The project is headed by Hammond (Armin Mueller-Stahl) Fuller and his right hand man Douglas (Craig Bierko) Hall. When someone murders Fuller, an LAPD detective, McBain (Dennis Haysbert) suspects that Hall is the murderer. Hall has everything to gain from the death of Fuller, including the whole company that Fuller started. But, things get more complicated as Fuller’s daughter Jane (Getchen Mol) arrives in town to take control of the company.
The movie flips between the current time, which isn’t specified, but I take it to be 1999, and the computer-generated 1937. And it is in these trips back and forth that The Thirteenth Floor makes its first time based error. The trips do not really serve much purpose, some of the travel does reveal information, but for the most part the travel is unneeded.
The murder mystery that is at the heart of the movie is flat. The romance that supposedly exists between Douglas and Jane fizzles. And thrill in the movie is rather tame. There are also a few attempts at some action sequences, but those are rather dull also.
The plot of the film is so meticulously setup that at about an hour into the film I was able to correctly predict how the film was going to end. The script by Josef Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez contain some good ideas, but all have already been covered and done by the more exciting and thrilling The Matrix. And because the ideas have been done before and done better, this is where The Thirteenth Floor makes its second time based error. The release time of The Thirteenth Floor was too late. While The Matrix is still doing well in the theatres, why would anyone go to see the mediocre at best The Thirteenth Floor?
The movie comes out of the production house of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the two guys who brought us Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, and Godzilla. Some may argue that I should have known better. For those of you who have read my Independence Day and Godzilla reviews, you know that I’m not a big of fan of anything that comes from Emmerich and Devlin. (For the record though, I did enjoy Stargate). So, why would I go see The Thirteenth Floor? One reason only: Getchen Mol.
Mol who didn’t get enough to do in Rounders also gets relegated to doing not much in The Thirteenth Floor. That’s too bad because I think that she’s got great talent. If only someone in Hollywood will give her something worthwhile to work with. Mueller-Stahl is also not given enough material to work with. He is the best actor in this film and that’s a waste of talent. Haysbert goes over-the-top with his portrayal of Detective McBain and it goes to his advantage. His McBain is one of the most memorable characters of the film because of Haysbert’s performance.
As for the lead actor in the film, Bierko, that is one of the failings of the film. Bierko, who does a mean imitation of George Clooney, is bland and ineffective in his role. He has two types of onscreen emotions, angry or confused. Because Bierko is the point of view of the film, him being the weak link is a point against the film.
The one thing that I loved about the film is the cinematography. When you look at the film you can tell that the cinematographer, Wedigo von Schultzendorff, spent a lot of time with director, Josef Rusnak, planning out the look of the film. The distinct look of the 1937 world compared to the 1999 world is wonderful. The 1937 world is brown and colorless, it is also not a perfect recreation of the 1937 Los Angeles, but one of which Fuller remembers. The 1999 world is bluish-green and a bit more futurist looking than being set in the 1990s. Kudos to von Schultzendorff for a beautiful looking film.
Had The Thirteenth Floor been a shorter film and had been released a year or two earlier, it would be a film to recommend. But, at this point, what the film presents has been done and has been done better and there is nothing to recommend about this film. Should you see The Thirteenth Floor? No, don’t see on the big screen nor on video for a good movie about alternate computer-generated realities, for that watch The Matrix. But, if you like Gretchen Mol or want to see some beautiful looking cinematography, then check out The Thirteenth Floor on video.