STARRING: Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dennis Haysbert

1999, 105 Minutes, Directed by: Josef Rusnak

So after three recent "question reality" (as its tagline announces) movies in a row, namely Dark City last year and The Matrix and eXistenZ this year, what does The Thirteenth Floor has to offer?

Let's see: some nice production designs of circa 1930s Los Angeles, some atmospheric (albeit at times underlit) Blade Runner-like shots of the city skyline, okay-ish at times stilted acting, a script that recycles some movie clichés and at least one neat plot twist that sends the movie into an unexpected direction.

And that's about it, really. As you might have gathered, The Thirteenth Floor offers nothing startlingly new - especially in the same year as two other virtual reality thrillers (Matrix and eXistenZ), both of them better. One gets the feeling that if the movie's timing had been better, it would have gone down a whole lot better.

At its heart, The Thirteenth Floor is a murder mystery: the rich owner of a software company that has developed a virtual reality world populated by artificial intelligence units  (a bit like the holodeck on Star Trek - First Contact) is murdered. Who killed him and why? It is up to the man who stands to inherit the business to find out who is responsible and why. Only problem is that he too is a suspect . . .

While the answer to the above questions may not send you reeling, it is rather unexpected. The Thirteenth Floor is not a complete waste of one's time. It is solid science fiction in an understated and novelistic way Gattaca was a while back. No Hong Kong-type action sequences or David Cronenberg weirdness.

However, unlike Gattaca, it doesn't offer too much food for thought. Just don't go in expecting too much, and if you used a free complimentary movie ticket like I did, then you'd be up for a passable time in the cinema or in front of your VCR . . .



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