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The Thirteenth Floor

Rated [R], 120 minutes
Starring Craig Bierko, Vincent D'Onofrio, Gretchen Mol, and Armin Mueller-Stahl
Screenplay by Josef Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez
Based on the novel "Simulcron-3" by Daniel F. Galouye
Directed by Josef Rusnak

IN SHORT: Murder Mystery with an SF slant.

The latest example of how to kill a good movie's chances in the overcrowded summer flick marketplace is called The Thirteenth Floor, whose trailer and teaser teevee ads make it out ot be some kind of clone of The Matrix. Yes, there is a VR theme to the movie, but it's merely a device to get to the heart of the matter, a pretty good murder mystery. Unlike The Matrix, this reviewer didn't have to spend hours and hours of brain time doing a post flick analysis to understand what he had seen. The Thirteenth Floor's SF stuff is all clear as a bell. For those of us who thought we had it all figured out based on the trailer, nope. We wuz wrong . . .

We've seen the premise a lot in the last two months: What could you do if it were possible to actually jack in to a virtually created universe, rather than seeing it from behind a computer monitor? This time out the computer programmers are Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko, click for StarTalk) and Jason Whitney (Vincent D'Onofrio) with boss-man Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) the first to do the digital dance -- the only way this old man can land young babes -- as the flick begins in a virtually created 1937 Los Angeles. Fuller discovers a flaw in their work, and within hours of his return to reality, he is sliced 'n' diced in an alley behind a seedy bar.

Hall wakes that morning to find bloody clothes in his laundry hamper and a cryptic message from the deceased on his phone machine telling him that a message has been left for him inside the simulation. So it's back inside the machine, where the principal characters all look like the programmers -- Hall is John Ferguson, a bank clerk; Whitney is Jerry Ashton, a barkeep at a fancy hotel; Fuller is still Fuller, only now he sells books. Back in the real world, a police detective named McBain (Dennis Haysbert) is getting nosy, even if his timing and detective sense stink. A mysterious blonde named Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol) has appeared, claiming to be the previously unknown daughter of you know who. And bodies keep turning up sliced 'n' diced.

Now, any SF head is probably thinking "One of the characters has made it back into the real world and that's it. Right." Wrong. Not that a character comes back -- that much is spilled in the trailer. There's a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and I'm not going to spill any of it. The Thirteenth Floor provides a pretty good mystery in non-CG settings that look pretty darn good though, as Hall puts it, "the colorization needs a little work". The transition effects are pretty matter of fact, using a lot of laser beams and an animated tunnel effect you've seen before. Every effect and setting serves to move the story forward, instead of drawing attention to itself, which is a plus in my book.

If The Matrix had been this clearly written, that flick would have landed a much higher rating. As it is, The Thirteenth Floor may get stomped by all the other effects blockbusters, but it was worth the sit through.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Thirteenth Floor, he would have paid...


DateFlick level. A story that doesn't foreshadow too much, and clear SF concepts. Fine by me.

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