Saturday, June 16, 2007

Reel To Reel: Ocean's Thirteen

Back to Sin City to break the bank.

How It Rates: ****
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ellen Barkin, Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Brief language, Mild Sexiness

Ocean's Twelve showed considerable stretch marks, so I entered the second sequel to Ocean's Eleven with admittedly lowered expectations, if the Spider-Man and Pirates Of The Carribean threequels hadn't lowered them already. However, Thirteen is the equivalent of hitting a jackpot on nickel slots. It recaptures the breeziness and cool of the original, and best of all, puts our favorite gang of grifters back where they belong -- in fabulous Vegas.

Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his crew are out to avenge a massive rip-off by casino hotel lord Willy Bank (Pacino). He has just squeezed their mentor and bankroller Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) out of a monster hotel deal, a loss that leaves him penniless and literally breaks his heart. Bank is opening a high-roller palace down the strip from Paris, appropriately named "The Bank" even though it resembles a towering strand of DNA. Danny's plan to make Reuben whole goes beyond simply robbing the joint -- been there, done that. He needs to rig the gaming floor so the whales fatten themselves beyond their wildest expectations, breaking the house on the grand opening night. And as a kicker, he needs to derail Bank from getting another five-diamond award in the travel guides.

The film spends considerable time setting up this gargantuan job, rigging dice, blackjack, roulette, slots and casino dominoes for cryin' out loud while avoiding the most sophisticated cheating-detection system ever designed... and triggering an earthquake, yes, earthquake on Las Vegas Boulevard. It makes Ocean's original casino heist look like a Wells Fargo stick-up. And with Reuben's cash depleted, they need another money man. They turn to their original mark: Terry Benedict, still carrying a grudge from the original robbery but eager to crush Bank's ego. But he also has a job of his own in mind.

The con works, and that's not a spoiler. The Ocean's pictures are not about if, but how. They're a stew of slick characters and nifty gadgetry sailing through complications with deep resources and almost unlimited cash. If technology doesn't do the job, cue the soft touch. And don't worry about the logistics of getting a giant boring machine underground. Haven't we established these guys could con the stripes off a zebra? As Bernie Mac's character notes, "'Nuff said."

Once again, director Steven Soderbergh keeps this film moving with breathless speed. The dialogue pops with grifter smarts, even though it does lay the set-ups on thick. It's a thinking-man's caper film, as was the original. But unlike the original and sequel, Julia Roberts is missing in action. You won't mind.

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