Reel Opinions

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

George Clooney, star of the Ocean series, has stated that making the films has been almost like one big party. If that is so, then Ocean's Thirteen is the last remaining hours of that party. The guests are kind of just hanging around, refusing to leave, and all of the energy from before is gone. That's not to say the movie is completely devoid of entertainment. It's just compared to 2001's energetic remake of Ocean's Eleven, this movie seems rather tired, except for a few brief moments of comic inspiration. The entire cast seems to be on auto pilot, no one seems as interested as before, and only the natural charm of its large cast keeps Ocean's Thirteen from sinking completely into mediocrity.

The con that drives the plot of the latest installment finds the slick Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his band of cohorts trying to sabotage the grand opening of a luxurious Las Vegas hotel and casino. One of Danny's close friends (Elliott Gould) was originally a partial owner of the hotel, until his shifty and greedy partner in the project, a millionaire named Willie Bank (Al Pacino), conned him out of his part of the deal and forced him to sign entire ownership of the resort to him. Danny's friend is now bedridden after suffering a heart attack brought on by the backstabbing. Determined not to let Willie get away with his scheme, Danny and his team of professional con men set up a grand series of schemes to ruin the hotel. These include rigging the games, simulating earthquakes underneath the hotel, seducing Willie's most trusted associate (Ellen Barkin), and teaming up with a former rival (Andy Garcia) to pull off their most complex scheme yet.

To say that one needs to check their brain at the door in order to truly enjoy Ocean's Thirteen is an understatement. Any poor sap who tries to apply logic to a movie where the heroes can spend millions of dollars on a massive drilling device, place it underneath the hotel and casino, and simulate an earthquake without anyone noticing them hauling the thing around underneath the streets of Vegas is fighting a losing battle. This is the kind of movie where Danny and his team of ultra cool and slick con artists can do no wrong. They never get in any real danger, any problem is solved in less than five minutes, and all of their enemies either have Jell-O pudding for brains, or are easily manipulated by their charms. I guess it helps if your group of cons include guys as handsome as George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. If you've seen the previous two Ocean films, you pretty much know what to expect here. Danny Ocean and his men use their wit, charm and good looks to pull off a seemingly impossible heist or job, and avoid getting into trouble. The formula may be the same, but that doesn't mean there's no fun that can still be had. As implausible as the con is, it can be pretty entertaining to watch them pull it off. There's also some genuine laughs here and there, such as an unfortunate hotel critic (David Paymer) who finds himself at the butt of Danny's pranks, and a scene that displays the effects an episode of Oprah can have on men.

The problem here is not exactly with the planning or the set up. Rather, it is the execution that makes Ocean's Thirteen just not quite as much fun as its predecessors. Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh is known for his slick visual style, but here, it seems curiously flat. Not one sequence truly stands out, except for a couple moments that utilize a multiple split scene late in the film. By then, it's too little too late. Most of the original cast from the past two films return, but strangely Julia Roberts is missing in action this time around. Danny Ocean doesn't have a female counterpart to play off of this time around, and her presence is definitely missed. The cast members who do return bring their charm and likeable performances along with them, but something still seems missing. Maybe it's the fact that aside from Clooney, Pitt and Damon, none of Ocean's gang have much to do in this film. Oh sure, they all play a part in the job of sabotaging the hotel, but their characters are so thinly developed that they spend most of the action standing around. The film's large cast is made up of an impressive roster of talent including Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, and Eddie Izzard. It's too bad the film seems to be grasping at straws at how to use them successfully. We keep on waiting for them to get their moment to shine, and it never comes. While I was never bored by Ocean's Thirteen, I did find myself severely disappointed on a number of opportunities, watching so much untapped potential standing around.

That's not to say all the performances suffer. Al Pacino seems to be having fun as the back-stabbing villain, but never gets carried away into his trademark ranting and raving. He's cool, calculating, and often very funny. Ellen Barkin as Pacino's partner in crime is given slightly less to do throughout the film, but she still manages to come out on top, thanks to her last couple scenes. Not much else stands out about the film, however. Ocean's Thirteen is strictly by the numbers, and most of the returning cast seem to realize that. It's no surprise that since Pacino and Barkin are newcomers to the franchise, their performances are the most energetic to be found. Not even the usually energetic vibe of the city of Vegas itself can bring much life to this movie, as the film strangely uses very little of it. The city is mainly used for establishing shots, and most of the major action takes place within the confines of the fictional casino that Danny and his boys are trying to bring down. A bit more variety in a city as crazy as Vegas would have been appreciated. Last month's mediocre comedy-drama, Lucky You, benefitted from using the city to its advantage. It's a shame that Soderbergh and his crew narrowed their focus so much.
Ocean's Thirteen is not without entertainment, but you really get the sense that the franchise has stretched itself thin. I truly hope that this is the final job for Danny Ocean and his men, as I don't know if adding another number to the title will be enough. Those who have followed it from the beginning are sure to find something to like here, just maybe not as much as before. The charm of the cast can only carry this movie so far. Sooner or later, the filmmakers are going to have to add some substance behind the cool vibes and attitude. If they don't, this series will sink fast, and I don't want to see that happen.



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