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'13 Sins' review: A thriller relying solely on mimicry

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13 Sins

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"13 Sins" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Dimension Films.

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It has been nearly four years since my original viewing of "13: Game of Death," which is the Thai film "13 Sins" is based on. "13: Game of Death" was a solid little film that slipped slightly under the mainstream radar. The storyline for both films are nearly identical while some of the challenges are altered. For example, the protagonist doesn't have to eat feces this time around. However the changes leave "13 Sins" feeling like a thriller lacking a big enough bite to drift away from its foreign counterpart and have its own identity.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is not only expecting a child with his wife Shelby (Rutina Wesley), but believes he's finally getting the big promotion he thinks he deserves. Elliot ends up losing his job, which causes him to lose his insurance and which also means he can't take care of his mentally disabled brother Michael (Devon Graye) who will be sent back to an institution he doesn't want to be in. Elliot then finds out that his racist father (played by Tom Bower) has to move in with him because he's being evicted.

With his student loan debt close to $100,000, Elliot is currently stuck under an avalanche of debt and bad luck he'll likely never dig himself out of. He receives a mysterious phone call one evening, with the person on the other end knowing everything about him, that offers him $1,000 to kill a fly and over $3,000 to eat it. From there, Elliot agrees to be a part of the game which promises its winner $6.2 million. Can Elliot really be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead considering what's at stake? Let the game begin.

Like "Saw," "13 Sins" has someone performing an unthinkable task to receive some kind of reward. However, "Saw" mostly had individuals fighting for a life they didn't know they were wasting and only offered freedom as a prize. "13 Sins" stalks the financially crippled, offers a generous fortune, and has them running all over the city to complete 13 tasks. The stunts not only get more challenging, but also get darker along the way; sometimes even being morally degrading and even escalating to the most heinous of crimes.

The differences between the main characters in "13: Game of Death" and "13 Sins" is intriguing though. Chit performs the tasks because he's desperate and willing to do anything to get out of debt. However, his conscience always gets in the way as the more treacherous tasks seem to get to him. Elliot begins to enjoy being pushed passed his limits. He never had it in him to defend himself, so standing up to a cop in a coffee shop becomes kind of a big deal even if he is hiding a corpse in plain sight.

Like Elliot, the film is never able to find the initiative to be a unique dark thriller. The limb amputation sequence is quite graphic and a simple wire used to hang clothes becomes ridiculously deadly, but the twists in the plot are extremely easy to calculate. Ron Perlman's Detective Chilcoat character is a bit too enigmatic for his own good while the final challenge reveals something you can guess very early on. Even the ending manages to be uplifting when it should be something a bit less optimistic.

"13 Sins" is probably more worthwhile if you haven't seen "13: Game of Death," but is definitely a lackluster and lukewarm effort even if you just take what's dumped direct to DVD into consideration. It doesn't feel horrific enough to be horror and lacks the excitement or suspense of a thriller. The film is equivalent to picking up a loaded pistol, sweating profusely while trying to decide on whether to fire it or not, and then having the pistol jam when the trigger is finally pulled.

"13 Sins" throws its audience into an obstacle course it's already completed several times before. Redundant and predictable, "13 Sins" fails at igniting much interest within the viewer.

The Blu-ray includes a handful of special features including a Making of (8:38), a deleted sequence revolving around an oral sex challenge (5:50), an alternate ending (2:01), and Anatomy of a Meltdown (2:42), which shows the writer David Birke flipping out on Skype over the oral sex sequence being thrown out of the final cut of the film.

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