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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

This is truly a summer of sequels. Spider Man 3, Live Free or Die Hard, Rush Hour 3, 28 Weeks Later, The Bourne Ultimatum, Evan Almighty, Fantastic Four 2, Hostel 2, Harry Potter , Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek 3, Resident Evil 3 and, finally, Ocean’s 13, the latest installment in Steven Soderbergh’s cooler-than-thou heist flicks.

Ocean’s 13 finds Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) building a huge new hotel in Vegas with the loathsome Willy Banks (Al Pacino with a weathered, spray-tanned face). Banks double-crosses Reuben, who subsequently has a heart attack. As a result, the rest of Danny Ocean’s crew vows revenge. Rather than a big heist, the boys basically want to bleed a lot of money out of the casino by rigging all of the games. For those who worry that there isn’t enough grand larceny to accompany all of this fraud, never fear; a diamond heist is planned in order to finance the operation.

The cast is great and they look like they’re having a blast. Bernie Mac and Don Cheadle both got the short end of the schtick, script-wise, while Eddie Izzard has lots to do as Roman Negel. Julia Robert and Catherine Zeta Jones are nowhere in sight. The only female around is Ellen Barkin as Bank’s neurotic but vampy personal assistant. I liked her character until I realized she was only written in order to be exploited and belittled by men. Then I wasn’t so into it. One scene shows Matt Damon, sporting an awkward and ridiculous fake nose, drugging her with pheramones and tryng to seduce her. Watching this scene, I felt uncomfortable, yet, I have to admit that it’s the kind of old-school contrived screwball moment that you often find in movies like Pillow Talk or Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter.

The film is rife with Godfather references (with one scene featuring Clooney actually quoting Michael Corleone’s lines at Al Pacino). In addition, there are the obligatory nods to Casino, Rounders and the original Ocean’s 11. Yes, yes, this is all so very clever, but pop culture references and a great ensemble cast do not a great heist film make. The climax is decidedly anticlimactic and, unlike in Ocean’s 11, the crew comes off as a little mean. Putting bedbugs in the hotel rooms? Causing a 6 point earthquake in a lobby full of people? This stuff seems a little disproportionate given the initial crimes committed by Pacino’s character. Then again, out country is all about disproportionate and poorly planned counterstrikes, right?

Ocean’s 13 is three times as convoluted and three times as self-indulgent as the original. Alfred Hitchcock lamented those moviegoers who constantly scrutinize far-fetched plot points (he called them “The Plausibles,”). I am willing to accept that, as an avid watcher of films, I must Suspend my Disbelief once in a while. Ocean’s 13, however, demands that I build a scaffolding for my disbelief. This house of cards is so flimsy that it’s amazing it takes as long as two hours to fall apart. The cinematography, masterfully executed by Steven Soderbergh, is one of the greatest strengths of the film. It’s a shame the script doesn’t generate anything all that interesting to photograph.


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