The Thirteenth Floor is the latest Hollywood film to jump on the virtual reality bandwagon. However, unlike previous films in the new genre, this one lands with a heavy thud.
The movie starts intriguingly enough. An elderly man in 1937 Los Angeles passes a mysterious message to a bartender, proceeds home to bed, and awakens in the modern day. We soon discover that the 1937 world is a virtual reality simulation created by the man, Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is subsequently murdered.
Enter Fuller’s protégé, Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), suffering from a very convenient case of amnesia. He wakes up with bloody clothes and no memory of the last night. This, of course, makes him Detective Larry McBain’s (Dennis Haysbert) prime suspect for the murder.
But there are more layers to this onion. Fuller’s mysterious daughter, Jane (Gretchen Mol) appears out of nowhere to claim Fuller’s company. Meanwhile, Fuller’s chief programmer Whitney (Vincent D’Onofrio) has been running dangerous experiments with the virtual world. Somehow, it is supposed to be surprising that all these threads are related in some way.
The Thirteenth Floor has the distinct misfortune to follow on the heels of several superior “virtual-reality” themed films, (The Matrix and eXistenZ). All of these films evoke the question, “what is reality?” However, in The Thirteenth Floor, you couldn’t care less.
There are a few good ideas at the core of The Thirteenth Floor, but the film thoroughly fails to exploit any of them. Its script is a patchwork of lousy dialogue, inane plot twists and inconceivable leaps of logic.
Craig Bierko delivers his lines like an eerie clone of Jeff Goldblum. His dispassionate display lacks the slightest trace of charisma, and is strangely bereft of even the hints of humanity. He should take a page from the book of Rufus Sewell, who awakened in a similar dilemma in last year’s Dark City, and, though bereft of memory, still made an intriguing character.
In fact, the only actor (or actress, for that matter) that provides a single spark of excitement to this dreary film is Vincent D’Onofrio. Alternately playing a nebbish and a madman, his character’s actions never make a whole lot of sense, but at least he seems to relish doing them.
There’s not much noteworthy at all up on The Thirteenth Floor. Even the special effects are disappointing (the film’s VR transitions seem lifted from Stargate, and the big “money shot” is overwhelmingly lackluster). Since you can get your VR fix from several better films, there’s no need to logon here.