Sam Riley and his family (including sister Gaby Hoffmann) are struggling to cope with the medical bills for his ailing father. Working at his job as an electrician, he overhears a conversation about a get rich quick scheme, and sees the exchange of an envelope. After the guy whose house he was working at suddenly dies, Riley grabs the envelope and follows the enclosed instructions. Posing as the dead man, the instructions lead to a remote location where a game of Russian Roulette is played out, bet on by a bunch of wealthy clients. Riley is in over his head, but forced to participate in the game (by Alexander Skarsgard among others), as now he knows too much. Ray Winstone plays the defending champion of the game, a mentally disturbed man brought in by his brother (Jason Statham). Mickey Rourke is another participant, David Zayas is a police detective, Ben Gazzara is one of the rich gamblers, Michael Shannon is the impresario of the game, and 50 Cent (AKA Curtis Jackson) plays an onlooker who chats with Rourke from time to time.
With a cast like that, you’d think there’s no way this 2010 Russian roulette film from director/co-writer Gela Babluani could miss. Given that it’s based on a 2005 French/Georgian film also directed by Babluani, you might also find it hard to see a failure on the horizon. Unless you remember George Sluizer’s remake of “The Vanishing”, of course. As I haven’t seen the original, I can’t attest to which is the superior film, all I can really say is that this particular film is annoyingly structured and frankly not very interesting. The beginning in particular is clunkily and confusingly done, and whilst there’s a reason for it eventually, it still bugged me.
Co-written by Greg Pruss, it’s a bit thin, really, and the cast, whilst uneven, are still the highlight of the film. Sam Riley is better here than he was in “Brighton Rock”, though his American accent is a bit unconvincing. Alexander Skarsgard walks off with the entire film in a small but enjoyable role. The guy’s got something, star quality perhaps. Mickey Rourke and Jason Statham are perfectly cast, 50 Cent amusingly cast (Actually, Rourke is amusing too, ‘coz if it weren’t for “The Wrestler”, I could totally see Rourke ending up in a situation like this one in real-life. I’m not even kidding). 50 Cent isn’t exactly an actor, but he’s got presence and authenticity, and chooses roles that work with what he has. Smart guy. Rourke, similarly just does his hard-drinking piece of shit schtick, but it’s something he does well. For some reason his first second on screen cracked me up, too. Ray Winstone doesn’t have much to work with, but he looks disturbingly zonked out and despite lacking any physical resemblance, sounds credible as Jason Statham’s brother. Both Winstone and Statham are on hand for presence alone, really, and they deliver on that. David Zayas proves here in a small turn that he’s better at playing cops (TV’s “Dexter”) than crooks (“The Expendables”). Gaby Hoffmann (who I haven’t seen on screen basically since she hit puberty!) and the absolutely stunning Emmanuelle Chriqui are good too, but have the most poorly defined roles. More scenes with them would’ve been appreciated (even if the flashback structure is confusing and annoying, as well as kinda predictable too).
Not everyone comes out of this looking good, however. The late Ben Gazzara, for instance, is pretty bad, and frankly, looks like a corpse. It’s distressing to watch him here, especially given how fine the rest of his body of work has generally been and the obvious ill health he had at the time. Michael Shannon, meanwhile, gave one of his best-ever performances in “Take Shelter”, but here in a one-dimensional part, he simply shouts. Constantly. It’s all he does. Why wasn’t Al Pacino cast, then? Shouting has become his thing. At any rate, it typifies Shannon; Great one minute (“Take Shelter”, “Bug”), awfully unhinged the next (this, “Revolutionary Road”). The dude clearly needs a strong director.
I liked some of the little touches about near-death experiences and chance, but the large cast deserve better than the underwritten characters they have been given. Also, when you get right down to it, this film is just a Russian roulette version of Albert Pyun’s B-grade shoot ‘em up “Mean Guns”, hardly a film you’d want to emulate. I’m not sure why a director would remake their own film, let alone after only a few years (and is this his second film? What’s he going to do for a third, a sequel to the original?), and this bland and thin story is a waste of a pretty good cast. Not even a good B-movie.