“'Ocean's' Sequel Treads Familiar Waters”
by Scott Mantz
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Another big summer weekend, another big summer sequel — or, in this case, threequel, which arrives in theaters just a few days after last month's gigantic Hollywood blockbuster, “Spider-Shrek of the Caribbean 3,” broke all sorts of box office records around the world.
Now comes “Ocean's Thirteen,” in which 21st Century rat-packers George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and the rest of the dapper gang make waves with their most elaborate heist yet: to strike back against a ruthless casino magnate who did them wrong.
Waitaminute, wasn't that the story behind 2001's “Ocean's Eleven?” Of course it was, which is why “Ocean's Thirteen” feels like such a shameless retread, right down to its far-fetched plot, Las Vegas setting and sharp-dressed men who act like they're just too cool for school.
At least “Ocean's Thirteen” is an improvement over 2004's “Ocean's Twelve,” which was a disappointing exercise in self-indulgence that had none of the fun, easygoing charm of its breezy predecessor. The problem is that it still falls short of being a return to form for director Steven Soderbergh, since it feels like such a watered-down version of “Ocean's Eleven.”
When Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould), a member of the original Eleven, winds up in the hospital after a deal with egomaniacal casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) goes sour, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) rounds up the usual suspects to avenge their fallen comrade. This time around, their plan is twofold: first, to rig Bank's new casino so it loses money on its opening night; and second, to ruin his reputation as the top hotelier in Las Vegas. The stakes may be higher than ever, but that won't stop them from rising to the occasion to break The Bank and hit him where it hurts the most — in his wallet.
With the exception of a staged seduction between cunning thief Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) and Bank's most trusted aid, Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin), the romantic angle is virtually non-existent in “Ocean's Thirteen.” Not only is the love of Danny's life, played by Julia Roberts in the first two films, barely acknowledged here, but the object of Rusty Ryan's (Brad Pitt) affection, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Ocean's Twelve,” isn't mentioned at all. To that extent, “Ocean's Thirteen” feels even more like a guy's movie than its predecessors.
But it's not as engaging as the first movie, since the premise is built on a weak foundation, and it becomes increasingly far-fetched as it progresses. In addition, the returning players aren't as dynamic as they were in the past, while the newcomers aren't defined enough to give the series a fresh new spin. For example, a screen legend like Al Pacino should have been inspired as the over-the-top Willy Bank, but he merely comes across as a shorter, tanner version of the first film's Terry Benedict (played by Andy Garcia, who, in a clever twist, returns to fund Danny's heist).
But “Ocean's Thirteen” coasts along by its charm. And it has plenty of that, thanks to the chemistry between Clooney, Pitt, Damon and Cheadle, who know all too well how to play the game after three movies together. The same goes for Scott Caan and Casey Affleck, who continue to taunt each other to an amusing affect as the brothers Malloy. Some of the other team players — like Bernie Mac's Frank Catton and Shaobo Qin's The Amazing Yen — don't fare as well, but if they weren't here at all, it wouldn't be called “Ocean's Thirteen” now, would it?
So while “Thirteen” is far from perfect, it still has enough going for it to make it worth seeing. After all, it's a lot better than “Twelve,” and even though it doesn't quite go to “Eleven,” at least it comes close enough.
Verdict: See it!