Monday, June 18, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (Steven Soderbergh, 2007)

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) pulls together the old gang again to help one of their own in OCEAN'S THIRTEEN. Willy Bank (Al Pacino) stiffs Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) on the contract for a lavish new Las Vegas casino that the Ocean pal thought he was building as a partner with the oily owner. Reuben stands to lose untold millions from Bank cutting him out of the deal. The news triggers a heart attack and rallies Ocean and crew around their old friend.

Rather than rob Bank's casino, they plot to do something far more ruinous: destroy his reputation and make winners of everyone playing the tables and slots. Rigging the games--and sending Virgil (Casey Affleck) to Mexico to tamper with the casino's dice at the production plant--takes time. Despite their elaborate plans, there's still the small problem of getting the gamblers to leave with their winnings instead of continuing to play. With the kind of hot streaks they'll be riding, no one will want to head for the exits. The solution is to simulate an earthquake that will send the crowd scattering and Bank broken.

Like the other OCEAN'S movies, OCEAN'S THIRTEEN is an excuse for director Steven Soderbergh, Clooney, and friends to have a good time and transmit that Hollywood fun and stylishness to ticket-buying audiences. Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle, among others, return for an all-star romp that appears to be as much fun for the participants as it is for the viewers. Old Hollywood still holds fascination today because of the glamour on screen and off. In our age of 24-hour tabloid media, which commonly feature some of this film's players, OCEAN'S THIRTEEN returns the sparkle in the glitter that entertainment reporting can tarnish. This breezy two-hour glimpse at movie stars and the lush life used to be what the studios did best.

The story is incredibly (and intentionally) convoluted and patently absurd, but that's what makes it such a rollick. Whether or not you can follow the operation details--and chances are you can't entirely--the pleasure is found in the winking tone of it all. The nonstop chatter about the plan builds a rhythm of verbal sparring that becomes funnier the more confusing it becomes.

It's hard to call the best jokes in OCEAN'S THIRTEEN throwaway since that tag could apply to the entire film. Effortless disposability amid gaudiness defines it. Yet the humor derives from scenes that might have hit the cutting room floor in tighter films. Virgil's fomenting of a worker strike, in part from seeing that Mexican revolutionary Zapata's image has been relegated to slinging tequila, has little to do with pushing the action forward, but those scenes are the film's funniest. Also indulgent and amusing is seeing Clooney and Pitt tear up at an episode of OPRAH, a joke that succeeds on the surface and a self-reflexive level.

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN shows that summer movies and their attendant presumption of needing to turn one's brain off can still be executed with style and wit. Hurry back, boys. You've got these filmed parties down to a science, and I for one can't wait to be invited to the next.

Grade: B

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