DVD Review: Val Kilmer's talent wasted in 'XIII: The Conspiracy'

Imagine waking up with no recollection of who -- or where -- you are. You don't know what it means, but on your chest is a tattoo that reads XIII. On top of that, you have a gunshot wound in your shoulder and are dangling from a tall tree by the ...

"XIII: The Conspiracy"
"XIII: The Conspiracy" (Submitted art)

Imagine waking up with no recollection of who -- or where -- you are. You don't know what it means, but on your chest is a tattoo that reads XIII. On top of that, you have a gunshot wound in your shoulder and are dangling from a tall tree by the straps of a parachute. Oh, and you're also wanted for yesterday's assassination of the first female president of the United States.


Enter Stephen Dorff's XIII, a forgetful but not forgettable hero who is cared for by a benevolent retired couple after being found unconscious hanging from said tree.

There's not much in the way of recovery time, however. A tiny microchip found inside of XIII's watch soon alerts the bad guys to his location, and they immediately storm the couple's rural home to apprehend XIII for reasons as of yet unknown. Fortunately for XIII, losing his memory doesn't seem to affect his ability to fight like a black belt ninja or fire virtually any weapon known to man. This comes in handy as he fights his way through wave after wave of bad guys -- whom we later discover are determined to prevent XIII from unveiling an elaborate conspiracy to take over the government.

Life becomes even more complicated for XIII when various government agencies begin confronting him, each trying to bring him down for one reason or another.


It is impossible to tell friend from foe as alliances shift and no one is who they seem to be. While the conspirators want XIII silenced to protect themselves, federal law enforcement has implemented a nationwide manhunt led by the zealous Colonel Amos (Greg Bryk) to apprehend XIII as the prime suspect for the presidential assassination. Initially indistinguishable from other government agents are the lovely and deadly Major Jones (Lucinda Davis) and General Carrington (Stephen McHattie), who eventually make contact with XIII and claim they know who he really is and how to help him. With no one else to turn to, XIII reluctantly agrees to work with the two of them in a plan to use himself as bait to draw out the conspirators.

Produced in Canada and originally aired in France, director Duane Clark's "XIII: The Conspiracy" made its U.S. premier in 2009 on NBC. It was released as a two-part miniseries, and the DVD version comes complete with fade in/out segments for commercials to be inserted. It's good to know this going in, as for the first half hour or so I was baffled by what I could only assume were really horrible scene transitions.

"XIII" has been compared to the Bourne series of films, as well as Fox's long-running hit "24" -- and with good reason: The film strives to achieve the same edgy, fast-paced and action-packed vibe of the Bourne series.

But it falls a bit short in the quality department: Rife with plot twists, "XIII" does its very best to keep you guessing what will happen next ... though I found myself "guessing" correctly a little too often.

The film seems to operate on the premise of quantity over quality when it comes to plot twists; the audience is caught off guard simply because there are so many plot revelations to take in. It's enough to make you wonder whether the film was named "XIII" for the number of twists it contains instead of its eponymous amnesia-stricken lead character.

While "XIII" doesn't quite live up to the standards of a series like Bourne, it is certainly no failure. The plot is better conceived and more imaginative than your typical action thriller. The film's production quality is average to good, which is more than acceptable considering the relatively small size of Prodigy Pictures. The actors were quite believable and seemed comfortable in their roles.

However, some of the characters should have been more prominently showcased. Val Kilmer was under-utilized in his role as the feature's most dangerous malefactor, "The Mongoose," aka VII. (For some reason he gets to have two super-secret codenames.)

Another plus: The director effectively used flashbacks and hazy dreams/memories to elevate the air of mystery surrounding XIII and the conspirators.


Overall, "XIII: The Conspiracy" is a solid production that perhaps sacrifices some quality in attempt to stand out from other action films.

This is Duluth film critic Alex Skomars' first review for the Budgeteer. He can be reached by clicking on his byline above.

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