Ocean’s 13: A pleasant dip in well-charted waters

by Glen Baity

Here’s how I know Ocean’s 11 was a good flick: I saw it in a packed theater, to which I showed up late and had to watch from the corner of the front row. For me, nine times out of 10, that’s a recipe for disaster, but after a few minutes, I’d forgotten all about having to crane my neck uncomfortably to bask in the Clooney/Pitt love fest.

And really, it was a near-perfect, self-contained little movie. Everyone onscreen looked like they were having a blast, the jokes were funny, it was less than two hours long and it had all the fanciful charm of an ice cream social. I’ve seen it several times since, and it’s always a fun ride.

Then came the ill-advised Ocean’s 12, during which the same actors and the same creative team spent two hours congratulating themselves for having thrown such a good party the first time. You could practically taste the smug as the fearless Ocean crew, who had seemed like superheroes in the original film, spent the sequel trying desperately to return what they’d stolen because they became inexplicably terrified of empty suit Andy Garcia. It also featured one of the all-time worst sequences in any movie ever when Julia Roberts’ character masqueraded as… Julia frickin’ Roberts. Seriously, who on earth thought that was a good idea?

After that monumental nose-dive, director Steven Soderbergh is back in this Summer of Thirds, asking audiences to let him go double-or-nothing on the last Ocean’s flick. To sweeten the deal, he’ll wager a much simpler plot, raise you one Pacino and, as an added bonus, he’ll kick Erin Brockovich out of the casino entirely.

I’m reluctant, but I’ll call.

Ocean’s 13 doesn’t break the bank, but it’s a pretty all right sequel, as sequels go. It begins as Reuben (Elliott Gould), one of Danny Ocean’s crew, tries to go somewhat straight by entering into a partnership on a new Vegas hotel and casino with the ruthless entrepreneur Willy Banks (Al Pacino, playing a slightly toned-down version of his turn as Lucifer in The Devil’s Advocate). Within minutes, Banks has screwed Ruben out of his share, causing the aging, affable conman to have a stroke.

Danny (George Clooney) and his associates, infuriated in their cool, neo-Rat Pack way, plot to win one for their ailing Gipper, who spends the bulk of the film convalescing on the sidelines. The team works overtime to take down Banks’ gaudy venture by rigging every game on the floor to award massive payouts on opening night.

Along for the ride, once again, are Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Bernie Mac and Don Cheadle, all of them seemingly happy to be there, each of whom has at least one excellent scene. In a film this crowded, that’s all anyone can expect. Once again, nobody seems to be trying very hard here, and an Ocean’s movie is just the right venue for that sort of thing.

Ocean’s 13 is a nice summertime diversion – it’s fun, there’s zero chance of anything bad happening to your favorite character and the success of the good guys is never in doubt. The lack of a love interest for any of the characters this time around gives the film a lean quality lacking in its immediate predecessor. The job is the focus, and with no distractions along the way, it’s easy enough for the viewer to dive right in. He’ll be in for a good swim.

Though Ocean’s 13 is enjoyable enough, it’s clear in the execution that the true magic of the first film is gone, and it’s not coming back. The tone might be similar, the writing of a decent quality, but one gets the feeling that this franchise’s shelf life is nearly expired. Consequently, watching the film is like drinking a giant glass of milk, not because you want to, but because it’s set to go off in two days. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s hardly the best thing to quench your thirst.

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