Milquetoast extraordinaire Elliott was so nice (read: spineless) when he was in high school, he'd greet with a sweet smile the bullies who daily jammed his head in the toilet bowl.

A New Orleans insurance salesman with a college degree in mythology and folklore, he's so moral (read: weak) he talks senior citizens out of buying his company's more expensive plans.

Played with a certain understated nobility by Mark Webber (Goodbye World, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Elliott is the perpetually bemused antihero of the thoroughly enjoyable, if uneven, horror comedy 13 Sins, a satire about the ethic of avarice and cutthroat competition that defines so much in contemporary life.

A man who seems to have the capital letter L (for loser) carved on his forehead, Elliott is called into his boss' office at the beginning of the story expecting a promotion.

Instead, he is fired. Richard Burgi is brilliant in a one-scene walk-on as Elliott's sadistic, emasculating boss, who tells him he's too spineless to succeed in business or as a husband for his pregnant fiancée, Shelby (Rutina Wesley).

That's when it happens. Sitting at a red light and harassed by a housefly trapped in his car, he gets a call. Speaking in classic game-show hyperboles, a mysterious voice tells Elliott that if he has the guts to kill the insect, he'll win $1,000. When he complies, a wire transfer immediately registers on his bank account.

He agrees to eat the fly for $3,266 more - the exact amount Shelby owes on her credit card.

Complete 11 more challenges, Elliott is told, and he'll win millions. Man, he's up for it!

Based on the 2006 Thai hit 13: Game of Death, writer-director Daniel Stamm's picture moves at a fast, steady clip as it shows Elliott becoming enmeshed in an escalating series of stunts that leads, inexorably, to some serious acts of bloody violence.

13 Sins is a smart, stylish picture elevated by fine performances by Webber and a superior ensemble of supporting players, including Richard Bower, Ron Perlman, and Pruitt Taylor Vince.

13 Sins **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Daniel Stamm. With Mark Webber, Rutina Wesley, Tom Bower, Ron Perlman. Distributed by Dimension Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 mins.

Parent's guide: R (strong, bloody violence, profanity)

Playing at: Montgomeryville Stadium 12EndText