Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"31 Movies, 31 Days": #18 13 Assassins

Movie: 13 Assassins (2010)
Budget: $6 million

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Format: Netflix streaming

With an almost perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a remarkable accomplishment given the bloody and ultra-violent nature of the film, 13 Assassins has been widely hailed as the best action movie of the seen on fewer than thirty screens in the US. Yet, for all of the enthusiastic reviews showered upon this remake of a 1963 film, 13 Assassins was merely passable fare in my mind...a recommendable actioner, but one that overstays its welcome and fails to leave a lasting impression.

The story of 13 Assassins is hardly an original one: A disparate gang of thirteen warriors band together to kill an evil feudal lord...a virtual suicide mission that will have them facing off against hundreds of samurai in order to complete their task. It's not quite The Dirty Dozen, but it's close. It's also close to about a hundred other movies with the "outnumbered in battle" theme. As you may know from reading some of my past reviews, absence of originality is not a deal-breaker in my book. Taking a well-established genre and churning out a polished product can be a satisfying experience worthy of praise. For the most part, that's precisely what 13 Assassins does. For the most part.

13 Assassins is at its best when the chief adversaries flex their intellect instead of their brawn. The clever gamesmanship works well on both sides and adds to the ever-increasing tension that precedes the epic, final battle. It's that battle, one lasting about 40 minutes long, where I diverge a bit from the movie's more enthusiastic critics. While parts of the battle are indeed thrilling, I was reminded of the over-rated Hard Boiled---the film which essentially launched John Woo's not-so-great career as an "elite" action director. In that 1992 Hong Kong film, there's an extended action finale in a hospital that lasts FOREVER. The first time I saw it, it was an amazing burst of extended action. The second time I saw it, I kept looking at the clock. The third time I saw it, I grimaced and concluded it's just way too long and redundant and that the 20-year-old Kraig who loved it was clearly an idiot without a life. Too harsh? Like the finale of Hard Boiled, 13 Assassins just doesn't know when to quit. It's like a hack-and-slash video game where the enemies keep comin' and you keep killin'. It gets old quick. Next level, please.

Now, if I sound overly critical, I don't mean to. There's a lot to like about 13 Assassins...from its beautiful cinematography, to its solid acting, to its engaging, action set pieces. But any talk about 13 Assassins being an instant classic should be put to rest. It's a fine action film, but it's no comparison to films like Hero or House of Flying Daggers.

Kraig's Rating: 6/10

Movie #1: Skyline
Movie #2: Killers
Movie #3: The Iron Giant
Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau
Movie #5: Rubber
Movie #6: The Fighter
Movie #7: The Winning Season
Movie #8: World's Greatest Dad
Movie #9: Hobo With a Shotgun
Movie #10: The Lincoln Lawyer
Movie #11: Stake Land
Movie #12: Horrible Bosses
Movie #13: Brooklyn's Finest
Movie #14: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Movie #15: Devil
Movie #16: The Vicious Kind
Movie #17: Cave of Forgotten Dreams


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