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The Thirteenth Floor

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As quickly as movies about parents switching bodies with their children piled up in the late '80s, the end of the '90s is seeing a proliferation of films exploring virtual reality. Coming on the heels of The Matrix and eXistenZ, both excellent, The Thirteenth Floor can only suffer by comparison: A solid, interesting B-movie, in another season it would seem a good deal fresher. Of course, The Thirteenth Floor can't really help that and, left to stand or fall on its own virtues, it stands up fairly well. Craig Bierko stars as a computer scientist in contemporary Los Angeles who is working on a virtual-reality version of 1937 L.A. under the tutelage of Armin Mueller-Stahl. When someone mysteriously murders Mueller-Stahl, Bierko enters the simulation himself in search of clues, all the while under the surveillance of a tough police detective (Dennis Haysbert) and the watchful eye of Mueller-Stahl's previously unmentioned daughter (Gretchen Mol). In the process, Bierko discovers something for which he could never prepare himself. Director Josef Rusnak keeps things looking stylish in both of the story's dimensions, while the script, loosely adapted from Daniel F. Galouye's novel Simulacron-3, remains slyly twisty from its beginning through shortly before its conclusion. Still, that overly conventional third act lets the air out of The Thirteenth Floor, as Bierko's flat performance does pretty much throughout. While entertaining and worthwhile on its own—those two fairly major flaws aside—The Thirteenth Floor does raise an interesting question: If a film, though in essence something else, looks and feels like a good ripoff of other VR-themed films, does it matter if it's not?