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Awesome: 16.33%
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5 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Ocean's Thirteen
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Another Amusing Round Of Capering From Soderbergh & Co."
4 stars

When “Ocean’s Twelve,” the star-studded sequel to the immensely popular remake of the 1960 Rat Pack standard, was released in 2004, I was surprised and delighted with the way that director Steven Soderbergh had taken a film that could have easily been a lazy and soulless money grab–it was, after all, a movie that was being made simply because the original made a ton of money–and transformed it into a sly goof that cleverly mocked the very idea of making a sequel to such a film in the first place and also allowed him to blend his consummate skill at producing slickly made mass entertainments with his compulsion to experiment and throw monkey wrenches into the studio moviemaking apparatus whenever possible. Alas, it seems that I was one of the few people out there who felt that way about the film and even though it too made enormous sums of money, most people–including Soderbergh himself–now seem to dismiss it as something of a botch. Now we have “Ocean’s Thirteen” and it so closely follows the template set up by the first film–an all-star cast breezing through the streets of Las Vegas while going through the motions of a ludicrously complicated con job meant to get back at a sleazy casino owner who did one of them wrong–that it feels like it was designed to be the film that everyone wished that “Ocean’s Twelve” had been in the first place.

This time around, the action is instigated when old-timer Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) is screwed out of his share of an elaborate new casino being built by sleazy developer Willy Bank (Al Pacino). How can Bank do that?, Reuben asks. After all, the two are old enough to have both personally shaken Frank Sinatra’s hand–as potent a symbol of the good old days as you could possibly ask for. “Screw Sinatra’s hand!,” barks Bank, who is less interested in nostalgia than in the bottom line, and the shock of that statement is enough to cause Reuben to suffer a massive heart attack and land in a coma. His far-more-loyal pals–Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle), Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner), brothers Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) and Yen (Shaobo Qin)–gather at his bedside and immediately decide that in order to get revenge and restore Reuben’s will to live, they will sabotage the lavish opening of Bank’s latest casino, a gaudy pleasure palace that is known as “The Bank” and which is so elaborately appointed that the silverware in the joint is actually made out of gold.

This is not the easiest thing in the world to do since both Banks are accompanied by foolproof security systems designed to keep people like them away–the casino has a computer outlay that would give even the MCP from “Tron” pause while the flesh-and-blood version has right-hand (wo)man Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin) at his side. Since the casino is built on a precarious financial base, they plot to fix the games so that they wind up paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to all the opening night high-rollers This is to be accomplished by means that range from sending Virgil off to the Mexican sweatshop that produces the dice in order to load them at the source to bringing in a gigantic underground drill–the same one that dug the Chunnel (from the French side)–to simulate an earthquake (“He’s doing an Irwin Allen.”) that will temporarily disable the security system long enough for the rigged games to kick in. At the same time, Danny and Rusty learn that Bank is hoping that his new casino will win the coveted Five Diamonds industry award and decide to sabotage that by passing off Saul as the undercover critic sent to evaluate the place while giving the real critic (David Paymer) a stay that he will never forget (and neither will his dermatologist.)

Alas, even in the fantasy world of “Ocean’s Thirteen”–a place where everyone looks like a movie star and can drop a witty bon mot at the drop of a hat–things cost money and before long, the gang run way over budget and they are forced to seek additional outside financing in order to keep the dream alive. Inevitably, their unlikely benefactor turns out to be Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the sleazy casino owner that they tussled with in the previous films. Despite those previous conflicts, Benedict is surprisingly willing to loan them the needed funds but in addition to getting his money back first, there is one other request that must be agreed to–he wants them to steal the four previous Five Diamond awards that Bank has won in the past for his other establishments. (It should be noted that Benedict doesn’t necessarily want the jewel-encrusted awards for himself–he simply knows how much they mean to his rival and wants to hit him where it will hurt the most.) With no other choice, they agree and when they discover that the awards are kept in a super-impregnable room that only Bank and Sponder have access to, they launch yet another con in which Yen will pose as a mysterious high-roller and Linus (decked out in a hilariously pointless fake nose) will act as his aide/translator and seduce Sponder into letting him into that room.

As you can no doubt see for yourself, “Ocean’s Thirteen” tells an enormously complicated story that is less a straightforward narrative and more like the cinematic equivalent of the guys who used to spin plates on poles to the tune of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”–even with the absence of Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones from this installment (both are explained away with a line of dialogue stating that they need not be dragged into the fray because “It’s not their fight!”), there are so many characters, subplots and double-crosses on display that a new character played by Eddie Izzard is brought into the fray for no other reason than to have the others explain to him (and us in the audience) what is going on. There is always a danger in a film like this that the filmmakers can get so bogged down in the mechanics of the material by making sure that everyone understands how one thing flows into another that they wind up sucking out all of the fun. Here, Soderbergh, along with screenwriters Brian Koppelman & David Levien, have chosen a somewhat different approach–they know that we know that there is no way that the film is not going to end without our heroes giddily walking off into the sunset and the bad guys humiliated. With that weight lifted, they are free to just throw one thing after another into the mix on the assumption that while not every piece may fit, it will generate the kind of narrative flow that allows viewers to understand what is going on even though they may not understand what is going on, if you catch my drift. Not all of these gambits may work–I am still at a loss to explain exactly what it is that Bernie Mac is supposed to be doing here are why the Vincent Cassel character from “Ocean’s Twelve” was brought back for more hijinks–but enough of them pay off in an entertaining enough fashion so that I was willing to forgive the occasional bum bit.

This may sound like a somewhat smug and condescending way to build a screenplay and in the hands of another filmmaker, I might have been annoyed with the proceedings but Soderbergh has such an obvious facility for this kind of slick and commercial filmmaking (even though he may not want to admit it himself) that he keeps things chugging along in a smooth and highly efficient manner. More importantly, he correctly understands that what makes these films work is not the detailed heist sequences or the elaborate special effects–not that he has skimped on either aspect here–but in the by-play between his actors. In a typical film of this nature, the actors are essentially bystanders whose sole purpose is to fill in the blanks between the various setpieces. In “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the interactions are pretty much the entire show and while I can’t foresee a time in which any of the performers here rank this film as their peak acting experiences (okay, maybe Scott Caan), they are all clearly having a blast working with one another and that sense of fun winds up coming across to those of us in the audience. Clooney and Pitt have such great comic chemistry between them that you may find yourself wishing that someone in Hollywood could come up with a modern version of the old Hope-Crosby “Road” movies to take advantage of it. Although not usually thought of as a particularly funny performer, Matt Damon does have pretty good comic chops and the sight of him once again being allowed to cut loose is a weird sort of delight. As the newcomers to the franchise, Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin (in their first on-screen pairing since steaming up the screen in “Sea of Love” 18 years ago) fit right in with the proceedings. Pacino knows that the role of Willy Bank is not the kind of part that requires any subtlety and so proceeds to tear up the joint with a full-throttle “PACINO” performance that won’t win him any awards but will hugely entertain his fans. Too infrequently seen on the screen in recent years, Barkin comes roaring back with the kind of sexy, silly turn that reminds us why we all fell in love and lust with her 20 years ago in “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” and “The Big Easy”–her seduction scene with Matt Damon, for example, is a little masterpiece of physical comedy that actually has a genuine emotional payoff, or as close to an emotional payoff as a film of this type is going to get. (I should note that there is another cameo appearance from a big-name celebrity playing themselves a la Bruce Willis in “Ocean’s Twelve”–I mention this only because IMDB, in a baffling move, has this person listed in the main credits in the page dedicated to the film and if you don’t want one of the funnier jokes to be spoiled, I would recommend staying away until after seeing it.)

While it won’t win any points for originality, “Ocean’s Thirteen” is a glib, stylish and amusing bit of piffle that should entertain fans of “Ocean’s Eleven” without annoying them with all of the screw-loose plotting and meta-movie nonsense of the follow-up. On the other hand, speaking as one of those schmucks who actually preferred the screw-loose plotting and meta-movie nonsense of “Ocean’s Twelve,” I must admit that while I enjoyed this installment a lot, I missed the subversive glee that Soderbergh brought to that film this time around–while I had far more fun watching it than I did with most of the bloated entertainment to arrive in the last few weeks, I got the unavoidable sense that I was watching the least adventurous film to date from one of our most reliably adventurous directors. There is the occasional glimmer of a more personal touch here and there–the bit about Danny being forced to compromise his personal project by taking much-needed money from Benedict on his terms is not unlike a filmmaker being forced to compromise their vision in order to get the funds necessary to complete their own personal projects–but on the whole, this is a far more anonymous film that we have come to expect from Soderbergh over the years. I don’t know if he said all the quirky things he had to say on the subject of expensive heist films with “Ocean’s Twelve” or he consciously decided to play it safe with Warner Brothers because they were also funding his costly stylistic experiment “The Good German”–all I know is that while I had a lot of fun with “Ocean’s Thirteen,” I came away from it wishing that there was a little more to it in the end and somehow, I suspect that Soderbergh himself may one day feel the same way.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15548&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/07/07 23:19:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/27/08 mr,mike Found it more enjoyable than the first 2. 4 stars
2/29/08 Ivana Mann Worst film I've seen in years. Boring & easily the dumbest plot ever conceived! 1 stars
1/30/08 Beck Lucky Number 13 4 stars
1/18/08 Pamela White awesome drama 4 stars
11/18/07 Erica Munro LOVED IT 5 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Great shots, sets, score, all atop an impressively, eventually executed heist. End it here. 4 stars
10/13/07 Private Surprisingly dull and uninvolving. Merely average. 3 stars
8/12/07 Quigley One of the smartest three-quels all year and one of the best. It still can't beat part 1 4 stars
7/22/07 wordtoya the movie was basically a con being the oprah scenario- it left the audience feeling good 1 stars
7/09/07 Edwin Menguin Too much set-up, not enough pay-off 3 stars
6/27/07 gr117 They overcompensated for the lack of plot in the sequel. Overall, though, not bad. 4 stars
6/24/07 Russell A boring, lame, tedious, money-grabbing act of pure self-indulgence. Don't waste your time. 1 stars
6/22/07 Ole Man Bourbon So implausible I expected them to blow up China at some point, but I didn't walk out. 3 stars
6/15/07 Sue Light What's not to like?? To quote - "it's not rocket science!" 4 stars
6/14/07 Anthony G What a movie should be, entertaining. 4 stars
6/13/07 erenik lorenci great movie 5 stars
6/10/07 jean sangrid boring, too long. i about fell asleep 2 stars
6/09/07 Benjamin Better than the last one, but nowhere near as fun or zingy or original as the first. 4 stars
6/08/07 KingNeutron Hollywood is finally making up for last year's crapfest. 4 stars
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  08-Jun-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2007



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