XIII: The Conspiracy
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Phase 4 Films.
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One would expect XIII: The Conspiracy to be hindered by the fact that it was both made for television and is derived from video game material. In truth, it’s not that bad. This Franco-Canadian mini-series transcends the average dreck we’ve come to expect from screen adaptations of video games because the video game itself was derived from a Belgian comic book series, and from what I’ve read game itself adheres closely to that material.
The story of XIII is a twisting, turning tale of government corruption and high-level conspiracy connected to a mysterious group of 20 agents, connected only by tattoos of Roman numerals on their shoulders. The film opens with the assassination of the first woman President, shortly after which one of the agents, XIII (Stephen Dorff), is found bleeding and unconscious, hanging from a parachute in a tree. As it happens, XIII has been struck with amnesia and is predictably taken in by a nice, elderly couple who live out in the sticks. The rest of the series follows XIII and his attempts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the assassination, his identity and the XX.
XIII is presented in its DVD/Blu-ray release as a non-episodic feature film, though it still annoyingly contains all the fade-ins and fade-outs that would otherwise bookend commercial breaks. Further muddling the viewing, each subsequent plot point XIII uncovers is accompanied by its own 3-5 minutes of expositional dialogue, and the characters never fully engage us emotionally either. However, the conspiracy is complicated and unpredictable enough (which is not to say that it is entirely unpredictable) that if you enjoy spy movies or conspiracy movies, you should find it worth a watch at least. As an added incentive, XIII co-stars the criminally underappreciated Val Kilmer as XIII’s nemesis, the Mongoose. Recall, of course, that Kilmer starred in another espionage thriller, 1997’s The Saint, adapted from the Roger Moore series of the same name (both the film and the series are admittedly far superior to XIII: The Conspiracy). Kilmer’s role here is minor, but perhaps following the international exposure provided him by XIII and his terrific performance in last year’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans he will start getting more of the high profile work that marked the first dozen years of his screen career.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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