June 8, 2007

Movie Review: Ocean’s Thirteen

Posted in Movies at 5:21 pm by Calico Jack

Danny Ocean and his crew of suave, sophisticated con artists and thieves are back in Ocean’s Thirteen, Steven Soderbergh’s second sequel to the remake of the 1960 Rat Pack classic. Unlike the smug, self-satisfied Ocean’s Twelve, which kept the breezy tone of the first film but lacked all of its redeeming qualities, this installment has a stronger script coupled with a ridiculously outlandish plot that somehow manages to cling tenuously to a suspension of disbelief for all involved.

The name of the game this time is revenge: not the passionately unbridled raging that makes mincemeat out of the unwary, but a calculated, easygoing kind that drips with coolness — this is, after all, the most stylishly charming gang out there. After Ocean’s alum Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) is double-crossed out of his partner’s share of a swanky new Vegas casino by gaming mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino) and suffers a near-fatal heart attack, Danny recruits the rest of the crew one more time for a financial takedown of Bank, Ocean-style. The best way to do this isn’t through outright theft or a personal con job; all Danny has to do is rig all of the gaming tables to ensure the house loses — to the tune of $500 million on opening night. This isn’t one big con but a slew of smaller ones that affects all aspects of the casino, requiring everything from magnetic dice to fixed card shufflers. How do you get past Bank’s state-of-the-art security system to let gamblers Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) and Yen (Shaobo Qin) work their magic? How do you prevent unsuspecting winners from promptly turning around and pumping their newly discovered fortunes straight back into the casino’s tables? (I won’t give the answer away, but it’s a comically mind-boggling scheme that puts other cons to shame). And most importantly, how do you pay for all of this? Ten million only goes so far, after all.

All of the Ocean’s crew are back save Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose disappearances are explained in a throwaway line that isn’t quite as convincing as hoped. Even the addition of Ellen Barkin as Bank’s right-hand assistant Abigail Sponder doesn’t make up for the lack of female presence, as Barkin is sadly underused, spending most of her time looking pretty in the background or doing little to give much character motivation (not that it’s ever been a big part of the Ocean movies). Linus Caldwell’s (Matt Damon) attempted seduction of Sponder using pheromone-laced cologne, a scene that should have been hilarious, falls a bit flat due to Barkin’s overacting. But the rest of the gang is in fine form, trading quips and shrugging off the exponentially spiraling complexity of this job with debonair attitudes. “We’re stuck,” Danny sheepishly admits to former nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) when faced with an unforeseen challenge. “Not stuck — just stalled,” retorts Rusty. This casual banter and jaunty insouciance is the hallmark of Ocean’s Thirteen, and its who’s-who of A-listers pull it off with rakish good looks and style.

Soderbergh also doubled as cinematographer, and his deft hand is clearly shown in every frame, from color oversaturation to the constant moving of the camera within scenes. Where most directors would take a steady shot and run with it, Soderbergh is always shifting back and forth, tracking movements and gestures that spice up the already impressive visuals in a scene. He uses the camera as another actor; it’s the thirteenth member of Ocean’s Thirteen.

As a disposable piece of entertainment, Ocean’s Thirteen works. It lives in its own fantasy world where everyone throws around numbers like “ten” and “thirty-six” to refer to millions of dollars, and where the glamor and glitz of Vegas never exposes its seedy underbelly. Clooney, Damon and Pitt all have an easygoing chemistry with each other, and Soderbergh knows enough to get out of the way of his own actors. Sure, it’s quickly forgettable, but it’s also tasty in its own way — in other words, exactly what a summer film should be.


1 Comment »

  1. whitishrabbit said,

    I felt there was an awful lot of confusing build-up which resulted in a fairly anti-climactic climax. The few minutes of pay off just didn’t meet up to the expectation, and Al Pacino didn’t seem intimidating and scary like Terry Benedict’s character. He just seemed like a sad old man who’d been steamrolled at the end, so that took the flavor out of the victory.

    The Oprah bits were funny though.

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