Mark Reviews Movies

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN

2  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Eddie Izzard, Vincent Cassel, David Paymer, Julian Sands

MPAA Rating:   (for brief sensuality)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 6/8/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Steven Soderbergh and screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien have two challenges with Ocean's Thirteen.  First, they must distance themselves as much as possible from its immediate predecessor; second, they must try to recapture the freewheeling, cool spirit of the original (again, I mean Soderbergh's 2001 remake).  Thankfully, Soderbergh, Koppelman, and Levien accomplish the first task.  The laborious, convoluted plotting of Ocean's Twelve is gone, and it has been replaced with the story of a straightforward but still complicated plan to rip-off a big casino and get revenge at the same time.  That's easy compared to the second undertaking.  It took a really weak sequel to realize what a long shadow Ocean's Eleven cast, and it's still present here.  That film had big stars just having fun with a really tight script with really nice dialogue.  Ocean's Thirteen is fairly enjoyable imitator (Koppelman and Levien do a better job impersonating Ted Griffin's original script than George Nolfi could ever imagine), but it has become pretty clear that entries in this series will always pale to their originator.

Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is in the middle of a heist involving a toy store and the bank vault next door when his cell phone rings.  After the call, he cancels actions mid-heist and later meets with Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) for a distressing look at their mentor Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould).  Four weeks ago, Reuben met with Willie Bank (Al Pacino) about his part in opening a new hotel/casino on the Vegas strip (a gruesomely opulent set of towers that twists toward the heavens), but Bank breaks the code amongst those who shook hands with Sinatra and cuts Reuben out of the deal.  Now, Reuben is comatose after suffering a heart attack, and Danny fails to convince Bank to honor his original deal with Reuben.  Six months later, Rusty and Danny have a plan to rig every game in the casino so that Bank doesn't make the half million he's guaranteed to the board on opening night, loses his job, and doesn't earn the Five-Diamond Award he's won for each of his other casinos.  That means bringing back the usual gang and some help from tech-master Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard).

What follows is the thieves preparing and stumbling at fulfilling the plan, including but not limited to the inept Livingston Dell (Eddie Jameson) trying to rig an automatic card shuffler, Yen (Shaobo Qin) and Linus pretending to a rich Chinese national and his big-nosed assistant to get on Bank's right-hand "man" Abigail Sponder's (Ellen Barkin) good side, and Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) burrowing under Vegas with a drill that was used to create the Chunnel to simulate an earthquake.  There's also an amusing set of scenes as the adjudicator for the Five-Diamond Award (David Paymer) encounters Danny's sabotaging of his experience, while Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) gets the perks by pretending to be the real judge.  The funniest scenes involve Virgil (Casey Affleck) as he becomes involved in the strife of workers in a Mexican factory manufacturing dice and ends up starting a riot ("Remember Zapata!").  Further complications inevitably arise, forcing Danny to enlist the financial aid of his old foe Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who wants Bank out of business because his monstrosity casts a shadow over the pool.  There's still the problem of the casino's ridiculously high-tech security system The Greco (named after its creator, played by Julian Sands), which measures eye-dilation, body movement, and other such things to tell if people are cheating.

Overall, the planning scenes are fun, because Koppelman and Levien don't put too much weight on them.  They're there, but most of the time, the focus is on the characters talking in that roundabout way that only they can understand.  There's a scene where Danny and Rusty talk about relationships, and without saying anything, they say everything.  That segues into reminiscing about old Vegas and Reuben giving them their start, and later, the two share a quiet moment watching "Oprah," sniffling as she gives a foster family a new house.  George Clooney has the too-cool-for-school act down pat by now, and Al Pacino is a welcome addition with his friendly way of threatening as Bank.  Some of the planning does seem crammed in and doesn't contain the wit and charm of Rusty and Danny talking or the absurd humor of Virgil's role.  By the time the grand opening heist gets under way, there's very little tension, and the script holds back a lot of what's actually planned, making the whole scheme seem more complicated than it actually is.  It's sort of an underwhelming climax, with Linus seducing Sponder to "Lara's Theme" and counters showing how much people are winning from the house when the plan is finally set in motion.

Still, Ocean's Thirteen is a definite improvement over its predecessor and a slight entertainment, but it is also proof positive that the attitude and style of the first film was a one-shot deal.  There will probably be more sequels, too, considering how sequel-happy Hollywood is these days.  Because it seems a losing battle, let's hope (a losing battle unto itself in this situation) there aren't.

Copyright 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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