After the smug self-indulgences of “Ocean’s Twelve,” in which a 21st-century Rat Pack made the same mistakes as their nominal forebears — mistaking their own idle amusement for compelling moviemaking — “Thirteen” comes as a welcome surprise. Yes, it’s a meaningless exercise in style, one more excuse for a group of well-paid actors to pal around on-camera under the sometimes-watchful eye of director Steven Soderbergh. But “Ocean’s Thirteen” revitalizes a franchise that once seemed in danger of sinking under the weight of its own ego.
For starters, it benefits from a funny, briskly paced script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the duo responsible for the tense poker-room drama “Rounders.” Here, they are re-teamed with star Matt Damon, and the partnership yields dividends. Damon, along with longtime “Ocean’s” cohorts Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Don Cheadle (among many others) are charged with the daunting task of taking down Vegas mogul Willy Bank (Al Pacino), who’s opening an extravagant new casino on the Sin City Strip.
The reason? Bank has cheated a fellow old-schooler, Reuben (Elliott Gould), out of his ownership share, leaving him mentally and physically crushed.
Payback, of course, is simple: Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his merry band of miscreants plan to ruin Bank’s casino, modestly named after himself, through an elaborate scheme to topple the house on opening night. It’s a wonderfully intricate, absurd plan that involves magnetized dice, rigged slot machines, crooked dealers and even a simulated earthquake set to hitat a key moment, but for this suaver-than-thou crew, it’s barely enough to make them break a sweat.
There are added complications — a diamond treasure Ocean agrees to steal for onetime nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), for instance — but the outcome of this caper is never really in doubt.
The fun is to watch it all unfold, as it did so memorably in “Ocean’s Eleven.” The Banks casino, an exquisitely detailed Warner Bros. soundstage awash in vibrant colors, is the backdrop; from there, Clooney, Pitt and the rest of the crew provide the cool, quick-witted throwaway banter that has become an “Ocean’s” trademark. Is there a point to it all? Well, no, but has there ever been?
“Ocean’s Thirteen,” like its predecessors, may be nothing more than yet another gleeful vanity project, but at least this installment delivers the goods — dizzying action, casually self-assured humor and a story that goes somewhere. And that should be enough.
Ocean’s Thirteen ***
Starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Al Pacino, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac
Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
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