Ocean’s Thirteen

2007oceansthirteen

Movie review by Greg Carlson

That unluckiest of numbers adorning the title to Steven Soderbergh’s third “Ocean” caper serves as a harbinger of the events contained within.  Weak, dull, and very often insulting, “Ocean’s Thirteen” never misses an opportunity to remind viewers that they will never possess the charm, wealth, and luck necessary to frolic like the movie stars they are supposed to admire.   The movie operates without any suspense, a condition that sucks all the air out of the viewing experience.  Viewers will undoubtedly assume that the movie is just a breezy good time, and the house stands to collect a pile of money.

The movie’s essential plot is a warmed-over reheating of the events that transpired in the earlier movies.  Ruthless casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses Danny Ocean’s (George Clooney) mentor Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) on a real estate deal, leaving the old veteran bedridden and traumatized.  The Ocean gang rallies around their wily teacher, vowing to get even during the grand opening of Bank’s ostentatious new venture, which bears the owner’s apropos moniker.  Naturally, breaking the Bank’s bank requires a ridiculous series of spectacularly coordinated cons, but is there any doubt that the team will fail?

The first movie in the series managed some success because Ocean adversary Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) appeared to be as cunning and crafty as his opponents.  Compared to Benedict, Pacino’s Willy Bank is a babe in the woods.  The awful script, by “Rounders” scribes Brian Koppelman and David Levien, depicts a man oblivious to the treachery surrounding him.  One wonders how he managed to reach his position of wealth and power in the first place.

The only female star in the movie is Ellen Barkin, and the screenplay reduces her to a lustful lump of putty in the hands of Matt Damon’s Linus Caldwell.  As Bank’s top employee, Barkin should have been a razor-sharp threat to Ocean’s plan.  Instead, one whiff of a powerful aphrodisiac renders her instantly orgasmic, despite the fact that Damon is wearing a disguise that makes him look like a Halloween party version of Dr. Evil, right down to the pointy fake proboscis.  Luckily, this subplot contains a refreshing turn of events involving an FBI agent played by the hilarious Bob Einstein.

The absence of Julia Roberts, handled by a few unconvincing lines of exposition, leaves a substantial hole in the movie.  At least Roberts appeared to play a character who recognized that Ocean was arrested in adolescence.  In “Ocean’s Thirteen,” nobody is on hand to baby-sit the boys, resulting in a dish that is all sugary sweet with no tartness to offset the flavor.  Soderbergh, despite his usual asides to the audience, directs the movie purely as if he is just going through the motions and connecting the dots required by the formula.  In addition to a winking exchange that acknowledges Clooney’s “Syriana” weight gain and Brad Pitt’s fatherhood, “Ocean’s Thirteen” literally claims that one cannot run the same gag twice.  The line is meant to be a tongue in cheek admission that the director and his confederates are doing exactly that, but it comes off as a snarky reminder that what we are seeing is just another variation on the old con game.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/11/07.

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