Mania Grade: B+
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- Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release
- Rated: PG-13
- Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Elliott Gould, Ellen Barkin, Don Cheadle, David Paymer, Andy Garcia, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Bob Einstein, Eddie Izzard
- Writers: Brian Koppelman & David Levien
- Director: Steven Soderbergh
- Distributor: Warner Bros.
Back to Vegas, baby
By Brian Thomas
June 08, 2007
Steven’s Soderbergh’s movies reviving the general concept of Lewis Milestone’s 1960 Rat Pack comedy Ocean’s Eleven are all about atmosphere. That atmosphere is best labeled “cool”, and it is truly cool because they don’t appear to be trying off or working too hard when they are actually quite complicated and expensive productions that must take a lot of effort to achieve. But one important factor in the formula was missing from Ocean’s Twelve that may explain its drop-off in box office pull: Las Vegas.
The gang is back in Vegas for Ocean’s Thirteen, and the results are more satisfying. Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) uses his fortune gained in the previous film to pursue his dream of building a mammoth hotel and casino on the Strip, but he makes an unfortunate choice of partners in the scheming Willie Bank (Al Pacino). When Bank cuts him out of the deal, Reuben has a heart attack, with depression impeding his recovery. Naturally, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and the other nine members of his gang of master thieves drop everything in order to launch a major assault on Bank and his hotel in time for its opening (the “official” opening, not the “soft” opening).
Ocean’s Thirteen then concentrates on the incredibly complex scheme by the boys to sabotage Bank’s hotel while simultaneously making off with a fortune from the casino. Often, the film revels in how ridiculous and outrageous their plans are – for example, their exit scheme involves buying one of the tunneling machines used to dig the Chunnel to dig under the hotel. When the machine breaks down, they have to enlist the aide of their old enemy Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who requires that they expand the plot to stealing Bank’s collection of diamonds as well. And this is all just part of the con – there’s also rigging all the casino games, making an investigator sent to rate the hotel (David Paymer) as miserable as possible, wrangling a collection of “whales” (international high rollers) necessary for the con, etc. And then there’s the subplot in which Virgil Malloy (Casey Affleck) is sent to a Mexican plastic factory to rig the casino dice and threatens the whole scheme by complaining about working conditions. If the logistics make the whole thing highly unlikely, that’s okay. It’s a comedy. This is both a heist movie and a chiding spoof of heist movies. Things are taken to extremes, but not out of the range of possibility – or so it seems. Anything can happen in Vegas, after all, where excess is a part of everyday business.
There’s no long sequence showing Ocean assembling the team, tracking them down in far corners of the Earth. Everybody just shows up and starts work. Also gone is the unnecessary complication of writing romance into the plot just to include Julia Roberts or Catherine Zeta-Jones in the cast. Ocean and partner Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) do some offhand discussion of their domestic situations, but they’re such old friends that they only speak in half conversations. Ellen Barkin, as Bank’s assistant, gets involved with Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), undercover as an Asian billionaire’s big-nosed assistant, but it’s not a gratuitous romance but a function of the plot. If the film has a great weakness, it’s that it’s too much of a boy’s club. Couldn’t one of the 11 be a woman without being a love interest?
Clooney and Pitt encapsulate the spirit of the piece by just standing around in nice clothes most of the time. They’re the heroes, but they never jump off a building, crash a car or run down an alley holding guns. Heck, they don’t even walk fast. These guys are too cool for that, and if you want to have a good time with this movie, you need to be cool, too, and stop looking for something to complain about. You’ll probably find something if you look for it, but who needs to look?
Copyright © 2007 Brian Thomas, author of the massive book VideoHound’s Dragon: Asian Action & Cult Flicks, available now!