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Ocean's Thirteen   B-

Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Brian Koppelman, David Levien
Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Ellen Barkin, Al Pacino, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Izzard, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, David Paymer.

Review by Rob Vaux

Damn, these guys are hard to hate. Yeah, they're smug and cocksure and full of themselves. Yeah, their capers are elaborate hogwash, held together with slick editing and the hope that no one focuses too much on the details. But after the endless meandering of Ocean's Twelve, and with pleasant memories of the "original" Ocean's Eleven just aching to break free, it's nice to see them cut back to the chase. No fuss, no muss, no flabby baggage to weigh them all down. Just high-class thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his merry band of Lost Boys stealing a lot of money from a very bad person.

And it works, largely because the charisma on display is measured in the tonnage and because director Steven Soderbergh moves too quickly to let us think about just how preposterous it all is. He sticks to the point and gets the job done. We don't even waste time reintroducing the various members of Ocean's crew. Previous knowledge is mandatory, allowing Ocean's Thirteen to dump us straight into the setup. The gang's moneyman Reuben (Elliott Gould) has been screwed over by his business partner Willie Banks (Al Pacino), who assumes ownership of their obscene new pleasure palace on the Vegas strip. The stress gives Reuben a massive coronary, and as he lies on death's door, Danny and the boys promise to get even by robbing Banks blind. They put into motion a typically elaborate plan that involves faking an earthquake, stealing a fortune in diamonds, flooding the casino floor with rigged dice, giving David Paymer a really bad rash, and apparently restarting the Mexican Revolution... all to ensure that Mr. Banks' grand opening goes down in flames and takes several hundred million dollars with it.

Soderbergh adopts the expected breezy tone for this outing, eschewing even the pretense of plausibility and instead reveling in the increasingly tottery charms of his titular bakers' dozen. At times, he struggles to give them all enough screen time. Several prominent figures make only minimal appearances at best, while new characters, such as Eddie Izzard's expert hacker Roman, are added to no apparent purpose (besides boosting the gang to the franchise-dictated number, that is). Julia Roberts is nowhere to be seen, nor is Catherine Zeta-Jones... even though the scam involves a female accomplice clearly written for one or both of them (Olga Sosnovska takes over in an apparently truncated role). Presumably, they were willing to leave this one to the boys, a fact compounded by the generally shabby treatment of the only other woman on display -- Bank's evil assistant Abigail (Ellen Barkin).

Rat Pack sexism and dodgy plotting are somewhat expected, of course, as is the fact that Ocean and company flirt dangerously with self-congratulatory indulgence. Their Byzantine scheme has its share of hitches and twists, and yet everything clicks so easily for them that it becomes difficult to develop a rooting interest. (Robbing casinos? Shit, these guys should be in charge of Katrina relief!) Yes, it's fun watching them enjoy themselves, but the increasing number of winks and aren't-I-slick smiles eventually starts to grate, while the odd tasteless joke creates fractures in the wafer-thin bubbliness on which the film absolutely depends. Ocean's Thirteen tests our patience more often than it should in such moments, threatening to bring it all down in a cloud of movie-star ego.

And yet, things never quite manage to leave the rails. Soderbergh keeps the basics of the scheme reasonably clear, and invests it with enough cleverness to make us want to see it though. Clooney squabbles amiably with fellow ringleaders Rusty (Brad Pitt) and Linus (Matt Damon), while adopting the odd silly costume or fake mustache to let us know we shouldn't take this all so seriously. The rest of the crew is in decent form, with especial kudos going to Casey Affleck and Scott Caan as the eternally bickering Malloy brothers. Soderbergh's big weapon this time around, however, is Pacino, who takes his pay-the-rent bad guy role and quietly steals the film with it. He plays Banks as unassumingly seductive: keeping his tone soft and pleasant until he has his opponent by the throat. The result is a typical fat cat, to be sure, but with enough engaging qualities to keep us vested in his eventual comeuppance. Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien sprinkle the screenplay with a few sneaky quotes from The Godfather -- presumably as an homage -- and when the big con plays out and each of the intricate little wheels come together, we're grateful that the target is worthy of such attention.

Though the running time extends a bit farther than it should, Soderbergh mitigates it by refusing to wander unduly. It helps that Las Vegas fits in so well with the series' sensibilities (the second film may have been doomed the minute it left Nevada). As with Ocean's Eleven, the city literally becomes its own character here -- lovingly shot and chock full of ever-so-tacky zest. The tourist board must go into spasms of glee every time one of these films comes down the pike: they couldn't ask for a better commercial, and the myth being sold in Ocean's Thirteen is the one that Vegas truly thrives on. Everybody wants to be Danny Ocean whenever they hit the Strip. They want to be the man with the plan, the one who has all the answers, the guy who's going to rook the house and walk off with a mint. It's such a pleasing fantasy that its status as corporate seduction matters not at all. Soderbergh, Clooney, and their cohorts understand its appeal, and clearly feel that it has enough juice to get them through another go 'round. Like the city itself, they know how to hustle us in the door, and if our pocketbooks are a little lighter afterwards... hey, at least we had fun.

Review published 06.10.2007.

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