There's plenty of examples of good movies featuring characters committing terrible acts to earn a few dollars. This month alone we have Cheap Thrills, a pretty good movie that grounds this recently overused concept. The best of these films show you something human and empathetic about their lead before he or she begins to make the wrong decisions. Director Daniel Stamm's 13 Sins does not do that.
There's a push and pull in the movie. It's never sure if it wants its protagonist to be a frustrated everyday man who gets in over his head or an antihero that relishes these challenges. At times he does, other times he doesn't. The lead, played by , just lost his job, has to take care of his father and brother, and is about to get married. He doesn't have the recourses to do all of this, which leads him to taking on 13 Sins.
One day he gets a phone call offering him a chance to win over a million dollars. He has to commit 13 Sins to win that grand prize. Once he gets past a certain sin, there's no going back. Of course all these sins escalate over the course of the film, forcing the character to keep lowering himself.
The issue is he's not a character that one can get onboard with from the start. Yes, he's struggling, but too soon he takes joy in what he's doing. In one scene he smiles after hiding a dead body in a coffee shop from a few cops. It makes him look like a lunatic. Not only that, he barely ever asks the right questions. He goes along with these instructions with little resistance. That does kick plot into gear rather fast, but it's not worth it when it comes at the expense of a believable character.
When he does start asking questions, he, and the audience, receive forced answers. There's at least four plot twists in a five minute that scene that is laughable in a way that doesn't suit the movie's established tone. It's a stilted reveal after reveal after reveal that ends on the movie on an even worse note.
The only satisfying payoff involves a pack scooters and a Hamlet reference from . A terrific Hamlet joke isn't enough to save 13 Sins, though. It's too problematic from the start to enjoy. On top of that, the movie asks too much of its audience. If Stamm is trying to paint a realistic world with struggling characters, he shouldn't ask his audience to suspend this much disbelief.