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(1999) (Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol) (R)

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Sci-fi: After his boss is mysteriously murdered, a virtual reality engineer must enter their completely realistic, computer-generated version of 1937 Los Angeles to look for clues and clear his own name of the crime.
In 1937 Los Angeles, a well-known man, Hannon Fuller (ARMIN MUELLER-STAHL), has discovered an awful truth and leaves an important letter with a hotel barkeep, Ashton (VINCENT D'ONOFRIO), to only be opened by the recipient, Douglas Hall (CRAIG BIERKO).

It turns out, however, that Fuller is the owner of Intergraph Computer Systems, and has just returned from one of their completely realistic virtual reality simulations. Wanting to meet Douglas, he's murdered before that happens. Unware of his boss' "trip" or recent demise, Douglas discovers bloody clothes in his home and has no recollection of how they got there.

Enter L.A. Det. Larry McBain (DENNIS HAYSBERT) who's immediately suspicious of Hall since he'll inherit the company and because Fuller made a call to him the night of his murder. Things become more complicated when a mysterious woman, Jane (GRETCHEN MOL), suddenly shows up, claiming she's Fuller's daughter.

Finally hearing the message that Fuller left for him and realizing that he either killed him and can't remember doing so or that someone is setting him up, Hall enters their computer-generated world as John Ferguson, a meek bank teller. With his present day assistant, Whitney (VINCENT D'ONOFRIO), monitoring his status, Hall begins to search for the letter Fuller left him there.

As Douglas travels back and forth between the past and the present looking for answers, he must not only deal with Ashton who's read Fuller's letter and now knows the truth, but also with a present day barkeep, Tom Jones (JEREMY ROBERTS), as well as McBain and Jane as he discovers the truth about all of them, himself and his world.

Sci-fi/"Twilight Zone" buffs may want to see it, but the central cast members aren't the typical draws for the under eighteen crowds.
For violence and language.
  • CRAIG BIERKO plays a computer engineer who finds himself accused of murdering his boss. As he deals with that in the past and the present -- sometimes not really as himself -- he occasionally reacts violently, cusses and smokes as well as presumably sleeps with Jane.
  • GRETCHEN MOL plays that enigmatic woman who likewise beds Douglas.
  • VINCENT D'ONOFRIO plays both a present day computer software specialist and a 1937-based barkeep who reacts violently once he learns the truth about himself and his world.
  • ARMIN MUELLER-STAHL plays the owner and creator of the virtual reality world who travels there not only to see if it works, but also to have sex with his female creations.
  • DENNIS HAYSBERT plays a present day detective who tries to figure out what's going on.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    It's usually a bad thing for someone to beat you to the punch with a new idea. When it comes to Hollywood movies, that's particularly true if you're not the first or, at best, second film out of the gate concerning a particular plot or theme. That's why after last year's big rocks from outer space films, "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," there wasn't "The Sky is Falling!" and "Heads Up!"

    Unfortunately for "The Thirteenth Floor," it doesn't even earn "show" status -- as in horse racing terminology -- for it's the fourth film of 1999 to tell a story about alternate realities where the characters learn that computers have played a nasty little trick on them.

    While all have their decidedly different approaches -- "The Matrix" was visually stunning, "Open Your Eyes" (a 1997 Spanish film that opened here this year) was a wild, mind-blowing experience and "eXistenZ" was mostly an odd gross-out picture with a twist -- their similarities have certainly stolen the thunder and burst the novelty bubble of this latest release.

    That said, the film -- like those others -- has an intriguing premise and this one in particular eventually requires a scorecard or flowchart about midway through to keep track of all the reality and temporal-based twists and turns. In that regard, the film is fun to watch as it unfolds and keeps the audience guessing about what's real and what's not.

    Unfortunately, "The Thirteenth Floor" is as unlucky as its title regarding lively acting, believable dialogue and a compelling plot apart from the sci-fi aspects. While "eXistenZ" somewhat got away with similar problems by having most of the movie being "fake" (where characters even joked about how bad the dialogue, accents and plot were), this film doesn't do that beyond a brief mention of the past's "colorization" problem. Consequently, the audience is thus forced to sit through some bland -- if not downright bad -- moments, dialogue and performances.

    Based on Daniel Galouye's novel "Simulacron 3" and playing off the symbolic notion that the thirteenth floor isn't labeled or doesn't exist in some buildings for superstitious reasons, the film has a fun "Twilight Zone" feel to it where characters realize -- due to various eventual twists -- that they're all just puppets in a world where nothing is as it ever seems.

    Yet where writer/director Josef Rusnak (a 2nd unit director on "Godzilla") and co-writer Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez obviously spent a lot of time constructing their modified version of a time- travel movie, they noticeably didn't take as much care covering the film's other details.

    Part of the problem stems from the casting of Craig Bierko ("Til There Was You," "Sour Grapes") as the central character. While some may complain of Keanu Reeve's woodenness in "The Matrix," he seems like Olivier compared to this film's leading man.

    With neither the looks nor thespian abilities usually associated with leading men in any major motion picture, Bierko comes off more as a "B" movie performer. As such and due to a lack of any sort of magnetic spark, we never really care for his character, and his overall blandness leaves a dead hole in the middle of the film.

    His supporting performers don't help him much either. Gretchen Mol ("Rounders," "Celebrity") plays her enigmatic character so much to the definition of that word that she comes off even more bland than Bierko, while Dennis Haysbert ("Love Field," "Absolute Power") isn't very impressive or believable as the detective "hounding" our protagonist.

    Only Armin Mueller-Stahl ("Shine," "The X-Files") as the company owner and Vincent D'Onofrio ("The Newton Boys," "Men In Black"), the human chameleon, deliver decent performances, but their supporting status unfortunately insures that their screen time is limited.

    Of course one can't completely fault the performers for the film's problems, for they're all saddled with rather lackluster direction and often laughably bad dialogue. For a murder mystery type story, the film lacks any real sense of urgency, and we never feel -- and thus consequently don't believe -- the "squeeze" being put on Hall or his need to uncover the truth.

    Thus, while the basic sci-fi plot is compelling -- although the choice of 1937 lacks any historical significance or dramatic bite -- its execution and realization is rather flat. In addition, while the story's "spin" on the old time-travel plot prevents many of the "but what if they changed this or that" arguments, it also removes the dangers of one's impact on the past that makes such stories so interesting.

    To make matters worse, the dialogue is often the stuff straight out of those bad "B" movies that air late at night on obscure cable channels. When one character melodramatically states "How can you even love me. I'm not even real" and his lover replies, "You're more real than anything I've ever known" you'll be howling in delight/disgust at the inanity of it all.

    The film's not-so-special special effects also have that low-end look and obviously suffer from unfavorable comparisons to the spectacular imagery in "The Matrix." While some 1937 vistas of L.A. under construction are fun, the main effects -- several "worm hole" sequences seen in various other films as well as the use of the old flat laser beam effects used at rock concerts back in the '70's -- are rather blase and do nothing to help the film's overall mediocre presentation.

    Although the film earns some points simply for having an intriguing premise and fun, later related developments, the fact that it's the fourth film of the year to play off a similar notion will obviously hurt its reception with both critics and audiences alike.

    That, coupled with flat performances, direction and some stilted dialogue prevents the film from being as good or exciting as it should have been. While the film isn't a horrible chore to sit through, it's lackluster execution and related problems certainly prevent it from becoming a sci-fi classic or even simply just an entertaining film. Thus, we give "The Thirteenth Floor" a 4 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated sci-fi-based drama. Violence is extreme due to several violent deaths (via gunshot or knifing), some of which are bloody. Other related moments included threatened violence, fights and violence toward a woman.

    While much of that takes place in a virtual reality world and thus isn't "real" and doesn't always have the "normal" movie repercussions, it does occur and certainly looks real and may be suspenseful or unsettling to some viewers.

    Profanity is also extreme with 12 "f" words being used along with other profanities and some colorful phrases. Some sexual encounters are implied (we see people in bed afterwards) and a few sexually related comments also occur.

    Beyond all of that, related bad attitudes are also present, as is some smoking and drinking. While it's uncertain how many kids will want to see this picture, you may want to take a closer look at the content should you still be concerned about its appropriateness for anyone in your home.

    Of special note for those concerned with repetitive, full-screen flashes of bright light, several moments of that occur during a thunderstorm scene.

  • Fuller has a martini in 1937.
  • People have drinks in a present day bar and Fuller orders a martini.
  • Ashton pours a drink for Douglas/Ferguson.
  • Douglas and Jane have wine.
  • Explaining her alibi for Douglas, Jane says that they had some drinks, one thing led to another and they spent the night together.
  • In the past, Douglas tells Fuller, "Let's have a drink." We then see people having drinks in a club and a waiter brings Fuller's character a martini.
  • Douglas finds several drops of blood on his sink top and then finds some bloody clothing in his hamper.
  • We see Fuller's body in the morgue (we briefly see his face) and the bloody sheet that covers him.
  • Douglas appears to have a tiny bit of blood under his nose after a fight.
  • We see some black and white photos showing a man being dead and somewhat bloody.
  • Douglas' shoulder and leg are bloody after he's been shot in both places and we later see blood on the floor of a bath house due to that.
  • Ashton has some blood from his nose after a fight.
  • In the present, Douglas has some blood running from his nose.
  • Whitney/Ashton has a slight bit of blood above his eyebrow.
  • We see Douglas bound and gagged in the trunk of a car and he's also somewhat bloody.
  • We see blood squirt out from a man's front and back as he's shot and then see some blood splatter onto glass as he's shot again in the head.
  • Jane has some blood on her cheek and from her nose after being attacked.
  • A man's head is bloody and that blood runs down his neck and onto his chest after he's been hit on the head. He's then bloodier after he's shot.
  • Although it's only a virtual reality fantasy, Fuller has affairs (we see one who's presumably a high-priced hooker) while married to his wife.
  • Ashton opens and then reads the letter that Fuller left for Douglas and later lies to Douglas about having ever seen it.
  • Seeing Jane and after Douglas mentions the benefits of working for a high-tech company, McBain says, "Oh, there are a lot of perks" (referring to Jane).
  • Tom tries to blackmail Douglas over Fuller's death.
  • Jane's eventually revealed husband has both for trying to kill her and she has some of both (in a virtual reality type of way) for having an affair in a virtual reality world.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers and one's reaction to those and the following will be dependent on their age and tolerance for such material.
  • We see Fuller's body in the morgue (we briefly see his face) and the bloody sheet that covers him.
  • As something goes wrong with the computer program we see Douglas in the past convulsing (along with music).
  • Masked men carrying assault rifles with flashlights storm Douglas' room, but they turn out to be McBain's team there to arrest him.
  • In the past, Douglas goes looking for Ashton and ends up in the bowels of the building where he has a violent encounter with that man.
  • A woman tries to get away from a man who's attacked and is now coming after her.
  • Switchblade: Used by a mysterious assailant to repeatedly stab and kill Fuller.
  • Assault rifles/Handguns: Carried by McBain and his team as they arrest Douglas.
  • Handguns: Used by various characters to shoot or threaten others. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "No sh*t, Sherlock," "Nuts" (crazy), "Cut the crap," "What the hell" and "Screwing" (nonsexual).
  • A present day bartender has pierced eyebrows and ears, and has a tattoo on his neck.
  • None.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 12 "f" words (2 used sexually), 5 "s" words, 7 hells, 2 asses (both used with "hole"), 2 S.O.B.'s, 1 crap, 1 damn, and 1 use each of "Oh my God," "Christ" and "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • In 1937, we see a woman sleeping in a bed (with her bra straps riding down on her arms) with whom Fuller has presumably just had sex (he leaves her money and we later see that he's married to someone else).
  • As Whitney says that the virtual reality characters (the "units") work, think and eat, McBain asks "And f*ck?"
  • Referring to some female dancers, Ashton asks Douglas/Ferguson, "Do you see anything you want?"
  • When Whitney asks Douglas if he found out what Fuller was doing in the past, Douglas responds, "Yeah, he was having sex with girls" (young women).
  • Explaining her alibi for Douglas, Jane says that they had some drinks, one thing led to another and they spent the night together.
  • As Douglas interrogates Fuller's character in the past and his fantasies, Douglas says, "You're having sex with young girls?" (Women) Fuller says that's true and that when he wakes up he has the smell of perfume on him.
  • A woman in the past shows some cleavage.
  • We see Douglas and Jane in bed together, with the sheets covering her breasts, although as she moves at one point we see the top of her bare breast (as well as shots of her bare back while lying in bed).
  • As a man pins a woman to the bed (where we see the bare part of her upper thigh) and attacks her (not to rape, but to kill), he tells her, "Just pretend you're f*cking him."
  • McBain offers a cigarette to Douglas (as does a bank manager to him as Ferguson), but he says that he doesn't smoke. Later, however, he picks up the habit and smokes at least four times.
  • McBain smokes once (but we also see him buy several packs of cigarettes in one scene) as does Fuller, Ashton and various miscellaneous or background characters.
  • Fuller's 1937 character reports that his wife is upset with him, thinking he's having an affair.
  • Jane also has a cyber affair and her later revealed husband tries to kill her.
  • The film opens with a quote from Descartes, "I think, therefore I am," which is a good starting point for a discussion of consciousness, reality and the effects of increasingly realistic virtual reality "worlds."
  • Whether a virtual reality game will ever achieve the realism depicted in this film.
  • An unrecognizable assailant repeatedly stabs Fuller in the gut with a switchblade, killing him (no blood).
  • Tom pushes Douglas backwards, punches him in the gut and then slams him against a car. He then hits Douglas in the back. Douglas then whips his head back, hitting Tom and then turns around and punches him. He then smashes Tom's head through a car window.
  • We see some black and white photos showing a man being dead and somewhat bloody.
  • Trying to get Fuller's attention by throwing rocks at his window, Douglas accidently breaks one of them with a rock.
  • Ashton holds a pistol on Douglas and shoots him in the shoulder and leg to see if he's real. He then holds the gun to Douglas' head who then punches Ashton and escapes. Ashton then shoots at him. Moments later, Douglas hits Ashton with some sort of pole, knees him several times, grabs his gun and kicks him. He then holds the gun in Ashton's mouth, but Ashton breaks free. The two then struggle and fall into a swimming pool where Ashton proceeds to choke Douglas as he holds him underwater.
  • Coming out of the virtual reality world, Douglas punches Whitney.
  • Douglas drives through and breaks some "road closed" signs just as Ashton did earlier in the film.
  • We see Douglas bound and gagged in the trunk of a car and he's also somewhat bloody.
  • A cop holds his gun on Whitney, but he turns and his hit by a vehicle (presumably killing him).
  • We see a present day security guard on the floor either unconscious or dead.
  • A man shoots another man through the chest and then finishes him with a shot into his head.
  • A man slaps a woman, pushes her to a bed and then pins her there, trying to choke her. She then hits that man on the head with a clock and escapes. The man then shoots at her, shattering a glass door, and we then see bullets denting an elevator door. Moments later, he prepares to shoot her, but is shot instead.

  • Reviewed May 24, 1999 / Posted May 28, 1999

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