1 item from 1999
Some nifty period art direction isn't enough to merit a trek to "The Thirteenth Floor", an otherwise laughably inept hunk of sci-fi hokum looking to hook "The Matrix" crowd.
Fusing the latter picture's parallel universe schematic with aspects of "L.A. Confidential" and "The Truman Show", this presentation from Roland Emmerich's Centropolis Entertainment gets inextricably snagged in progressively preposterous plotting, vacuous dialogue and weak lead performances.
While "The Thirteenth Floor" might generate a little opening weekend cyber-geek curiosity, poor word-of-mouth will likely stall it in the boxoffice basement.
Inspired by the novel, "Simulacron-3" by Daniel F. Galouye, the picture actually starts off promisingly enough with Armin Mueller-Stahl's Hannon Fuller taking in the evening social scene in Los Angeles, circa 1937.
Or is he?
It turns out Fuller and his partner Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) have actually created the convincing landscape on a computer chip on the 13th floor of a downtown L.A. office tower. But when Fuller turns up murdered and Hall awakens to discover a bloody shirt in his own laundry basket, this whole virtual reality business turns seriously real.
With a pesky detective (Dennis Haysbert) on his tail, Hall, determined to clear his name, takes a few risky trips back to his simulated city, only to encounter a Chinese boxful of existential roadblocks, not to mention the alluring but mysterious Jane (Gretchen Mol), who claims to be Fuller's daughter.
Although the storyline initially feels like "The Twilight Zone" episode that never was, it quickly devolves into hopelessly banal techno-babble. Director Josef Rusnak, who handled second unit work on Emmerich's "Godzilla", has an impressive eye for visual detail; his scripting, in collaboration with Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez, suffers from a verbal stiffness that has an English-as-a-second-language ring to it.
It doesn't make it easy for the actors, but while Haysbert, Vincent D'Onofrio (as a loopy technician and his slick virtual counterpart) and the always reliable Mueller-Stahl manage to give their characters some much-needed weight, the clenched-jawed Bierko and the vamp-eyed Mol flail helplessly. It's like watching the stunt doubles for Charlie Sheen and Penelope Ann Miller tackling a cold reading class.
That leaves any potential scenery-stealing to the scenery itself, and, thanks to some stand-out work from production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli and art director Frank Bollinger, the film succeeds admirably in its richly stylized recreations of 1930s Los Angeles captured to picture postcard perfection by cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff.
By enhancing the likes of the exterior of the old Ambassador Hotel and the interior of the Queen Mary with a little clever set dressing and computer-generated touching-up, "The Thirteenth Floor", at least visually conveys the illusion of something greater than its reality, virtual or otherwise.
THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR
Sony Pictures Releasing
Columbia Pictures presents
a Centropolis Entertainment production
Executive producers:Michael Ballhaus and Helga Ballhaus
Screenwriters:Josef Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez
Based on the book "Simulacron-3" by:Daniel F. Galouye
Director of photography:Wedigo von Schultzendorff
Production designer:Kirk M. Petruccelli
Costume designer:Joseph Porro
Detective McBain:Dennis Haysbert
Zev Bernstein:Steven Schub
Running time -- 120 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1999
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