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Ocean's Thirteen

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/11/07 20:58:17

"Plot, shmot, as long as Clooney and Pitt banter, we're cool."
3 stars (Just Average)

I find it impossible to dislike these “Ocean’s” sequels, no matter how hard they try.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” suffers the same fate as “Ocean’s Twelve” - a whole heap of style and too little substance. At least the original “Ocean’s Eleven” (it’s tough using terms like “first” and “original” when discussing a remake, but you know what I mean) had an airtight story behind all that zing. The sequels let the air out, feeling to us as if they were being made up as they went along, which supports the “boys’ club” attitude of the series but ultimately detracts from the fun of actually getting to watch something coherent.

For “Thirteen,” we open in mid-caper and are asked to struggle to play catch-up. The wheels are already in motion; try not to get run over. It’s not that the plot is impossible to figure out (on the contrary, it’s all quite simple), it’s that there’s no real entry point to the story, and so we trip over ourselves trying to ease back into the franchise.

Anyway. It seems a few weeks back, our old pal Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) got taken but good by big time casino developer Willie Bank (Al Pacino); the deal left Reuben on his deathbed and Bank with the keys to Las Vegas’ hottest new resort. And so Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) reassemble the old gang for some good old fashioned revenge. Which brings us to present day, with the plan in full swing: an actual heist being soooo 2004, Danny and the crew opt instead to rig every game in Bank’s casino so he winds up losing millions, right on his big opening night.

By returning the action to Las Vegas where it rightly belongs, writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien (the duo behind “Rounders” and “Knockaround Guys”) get the tone of the series just right. (The jet-setting adventures of “Twelve” were well and good, but an “Ocean’s” movie deserves to be in the hometown of ring-a-ding-ding.) The script even name-checks Sinatra and pauses for a wonderful aside in which the stars lament the ever-changing face of the Strip.

But by making the story about the struggles over a series of disconnected schemes, the movie loses all sense of focus. Too little seems at stake, as the plot shuffles aimlessly from a scene about troubles with an automatic shuffling machine to one about a riot in a Mexican dice factory to one about a plan to ruin the weekend of a hotel critic (David Paymer). On their own, these scenes can be very, very funny, but placed within the bigger picture, these moments fail to provide anything truly complete. The fun of movies like this is supposed to be in watching a plan unfold one step at a time; here, the steps seem interchangeable.

And yet, as I said when we started, it’s impossible to walk away frowning. Like their swingin’ predecessors, the cast here have set out to make every minute a good time, even if things don’t add up later. Watching Clooney and Pitt finish each others sentences (or, better still, get weepy while watching “Oprah”) will always be worth a big grin, and having the rest of the cast back up to their old tricks is worth plenty more. “Thirteen,” like “Twelve,” lives squarely in the moment, and while the plot never adds up, the individual gags and charms and quirks do.

Also like “Twelve” is Soderbergh’s loving playfulness with visual style. Stealing plenty from glossy late-60s affairs while adding his own punch along the way, Soderbergh makes “Thirteen” sing with its freeze-frames and split-screens and jokey on-screen text. This is the result of a gifted visual storyteller shaking off his serious side and simply going outside to play for a while.

Will fans miss the presence of Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones? Perhaps, but more likely, perhaps not. The here-there-everywhere tone of the picture refuses to allow the audience a chance to breathe, let alone reflect on who couldn’t make it this time around. Besides, the sheer joy of seeing Pacino hamming it up and Ellen Barkin back on screen after a too-long hiatus make up for the casting switch.

So it’s more slight, breezy fun for the Ocean’s troupe, and we get what we’ve by now learned to expect. It’s instantly disposable charm, but it’s charm nonetheless. Repeat viewings of “Twelve” led me to warm even more to its style but cool even more on its problematic script; I suspect revisiting “Thirteen” will yield the same results. The magic of “Ocean’s Eleven” may never fully return, but for more nights out with the boys, I’m sure it’s a chance we’re all willing to take.

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