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Woo Hoo! Another Ocean’s movie! I don’t know how many others were saying that after Ocean’s 12, but not me! Nuh-uh! Admittedly, you could bring me to a movie where Messrs. Clooney, Pitt, Garcia, Cheadle, et al, were sitting around waiting for their royalty checks to come in and as long as they were tricked out in spiffy wardrobe and flattering lighting, just set me up with some popcorn & peanuts and here’s a happy pachyderm. 

The first movie deserved all propage for being exactly as hip as a remake of the film that established the Rat Pack oughtta be. All slickness and sharp, snappy patter, Ocean’s 11 was fun and smart, a great caper film. What might have been a gimmicky assemblage of star power did not disappoint, and the cooler than snow white ensemble proved to be something novel and interesting from the start. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his hand-picked band of thieves seek to rob a casino, not just any casino, mind, but the most highly secured structure on the Las Vegas strip belonging to a dangerous character named Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), (- who’s also in possession of something quite precious to Danny; the former and future Mrs. Ocean). By use of clever costuming, subterfuge, explosions, rappelling cables and one small Chinese man, Danny’s crew manages to pull off the scam of the century … or does he? Ocean’s 12 begins with the reckoning that the 11 men have to face because of their little desert shenanigans. Namely being chased across Europe for the return of the stolen loot by the irate Mr. Benedict and also by a new player, one Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta Jones), a federal agent after the 11 thieves who gives sleeping with the enemy the best interpretation she’s got. Where the first film popped with an intriguing setup, witty dialog and the pure cheek of remaking the ultimate Sinatra film vehicle, the second film seemed to rest on the laurels of its predecessor to carry it through the weak script and tepid action. Wouldn’t it be funny if superstar Julia Roberts, playing Tess Ocean, impersonated superstar Julia Roberts? HI-larious! So clever! I knew the film was in trouble when the majority of the Ocean’s crew ends up in the brig midway through the movie. Ocean’s 12 smothered on the fumes of its own hubris, but the locations were sweet and the guys looked great all the time, so I didn’t care. Told you it was hard for me to be biased against George and the boys. 

However, I seem to have got my equanimity back in time for Ocean’s 13. This is a big return to a much sharper script, a steadier plotline and more involvement from all the players (- and the director). The laziness of the 2nd film has been shaken off and you can see the earnest effort to redeem the franchise, and on a lot of levels, the film succeeds in doing that. The hipness is back, the sly laughs are back, there’s actual camerawork in this one, and it’s as sharp and clever as its 2001 ancestor. The rundown is some years after their European adventure, Danny Ocean’s crew have gone their own ways, adapting to civilian life with varying degrees of success. They are brought back together over the near-death experience of the unfortunate Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), one of their mentors and an original member of the Las Vegas heist gang. Reuben’s dealings with hotel mogul Willy Bank (Al Pacino) go horribly awry when Bank rooks Reuben for all he’s invested in a new Vegas hotel project. Reuben, ripped off, humiliated and cast aside, handles this double-cross with a coronary. Incensed at this blow to their pal, Danny’s boys (- no girls allowed!) concoct a plan to get back Reuben’s spent fortunes and exact some Las Vegas revenge at Bank, who, as Reuben points out, has committed the sin of having “shook Frank’s hand” while being a dirty dealer. Clearly, something must be done about the nefarious Mr. Bank. Danny, Rusty, Linus, Basher, Frank, The Amazing Yen, Saul, brothers Virgil & Turk and Livingston are just the men to strike him where he lives: Their scheme to dismantle everything Bank holds dear, his money, his reputation and his ego, right down to the very hotel he screwed Reuben out of, is back to the level of complexity and ingenuity that we welcomed in the first film. In fact, this plan is so involved that the main crew has to reach out not only to the fabulous Eddie Izzard, reprising his role as a genius computer hacker, but to their old enemy, Terry Benedict, when the capital needed to execute the plan exceeds expectations.  

We’ve got funny disguises, daring acrobatics, a Mexican revolution (- a wry little comment about immigration, BTW), bedbugs, explosions, earthquakes and Oprah. Director Stephen Soderbergh more than makes up for the lackadaisical handling of 13’s predecessor by throwing the kitchen sink at the audience. Yet, somehow, despite making all the right moves, it felt like a lot of the fun was missing out of this one. The spark that crackled through the first (- and in Our ever-correct opinion the 2nd) film just wasn’t there. The ensemble had all the charisma in the world and there’s an obvious comfort and amiability amongst the guys, but perhaps in trying so hard to make up for the perceived shortcomings heavily-lambasted Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh lost sight of the lighthearted tone that made the first film such a breezy treat. I was overjoyed to see Ellen Barkin back on screen and teamed up with Pacino for the first time since Sea of Love; unfortunately as generally awesome as she is, she really hasn’t got much to do here as Bank’s right hand woman, despite the buildup her character gets early on. Her pheromone-induced seduction scene with a rubber-nosed Matt Damon is her big set piece and it’s obvious that she’s still got her she represents Queens sexy on, but I couldn’t help but think there was a lot more she could have done in the film besides be a hound-in-heat comic foil. Pacino has a whale of a time as Willy Bank. Tanned and brown as a Gucci loafer, Pacino plays the megalomaniac swindler with a nice restraint though you can see a mischievous gleam in his eye as if he’s trying to hold in the Hoo-hah!. He seems to be having the most fun of the entire cast. The main guys are all fabulous. Matt Damon’s, Casey Affleck’s and Scott Caan’s energy make up for a slightly tired-seeming Clooney and Pitt. I would have loved to see a little more of Bernie Mac. And I am completely under the delusion that someone must’ve read our Reign Over Me review, because I am overjoyed to report that there has been a vast improvement on the fabulous Don Cheadle’s wonky British accent. Right there, price of film!

Like I said, it’s nearly impossible for me to say awful things about anything Clooney, et al, are involved with (- heck, I watched Facts of Life!), and I’m not going to start here. It’s not deserved. While I missed that certain pop that was so singular to the previous Ocean’s films, I still enjoyed Ocean’s 13 a ton. It’s a return to the form, if not as much the fun, of the first film and makes a nice bookend to the series. 

 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha 

June 16th, 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Courtesy of  Warner Brothers Pictures)