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Film Review: Ocean’s Thirteen

Ocean’s Thirteen (2007; Directed by Steven Soderbergh)

There will be no Ocean’s Fourteen. Director Steven Soderbergh made as much clear after Bernie Mac’s passing (though you could take Mac out of any of the films in the caper trilogy and lose very little, but I digress). And looking at the still-slick but largely uninspired Thirteen, it’s difficult to see how that might be bad thing.

As with so many mainstream film trilogies, the third film in the Ocean’s series retreats to the familiar waters of the initial chapter after navigating fresher fathoms in the second chapter. Danny Ocean returns to Vegas with his gang of mismatched caricatures to exact revenge on a egomaniacal cutthroat hotel magnate (Al Pacino on casual autopilot) who swindled one of their own. Their plan resembles that of the first film and is, of course, outlandishly preposterous, but as it unfolds it also seems entirely too easy. Everything breaks their way, and when it looks like it doesn’t… well, that’s just another part of the plan that the filmmakers chose not to reveal until just now, you silly, easily-amazed moviegoer!

None of these men has flown commercial in a good decade at least.

Where the initial film (and to some extent, its first sequel) reveled in the clever twists of its caper plot as it swathed its stars in trim, retro cool, by this third attempt, the cool is all that’s left. There’s still plenty of it, but it’s all so much repetitive background colour by now. It amuses but rarely impresses. It might raise a smile, but rarely a chuckle.

The cast slide their characters on like well-worn blazers, but are mostly buried in complacency. George Clooney and Brad Pitt finish each other’s sentences, engage in plot exposition, and talk about their absent wives and how Vegas has changed. Their nostalgia for the old town of the Sands, the Desert Inn, and shaking Sinatra’s hand is a clever meta-reference to the films’ now-distant inspiration, but more than that explicitly voices the yearning for the romantic homosocial swagger of the Rat Pack that has always animated these films.

Meanwhile, Matt Damon wears a funny fake nose and has an awkward (in a bad way) seduction scene with a hyperventilating Ellen Barkin, when he’s not whining about being marginalized. Don Cheadle frets over a tunneling drill and has a brief vamping showcase in a fake afro and American flag jumpsuit. Bernie Mac is African-American, and Elliot Gould is Jewish. Andy Garcia is pure slime. Carl Reiner steals every scene he’s in with his broad, old-fashioned humour, and Casey Affleck and Scott Caan’s Malloy twins have a decently funny subplot in which they incite labour unrest at a Mexican dice factory. And of course, the sets are luscious, the editing sharp, the music slinky, the colours exquisite.

But what’s it all for? Not nearly enough entertainment, that’s for sure. This is not a bad film, but it’s the first of these expert caper flicks to feel inevitable. Ocean’s scheme is to stack the deck in his crew’s favour. Does the movie have to stack the deck is hisfavour quite so obviously?

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