Basically, what you get with Ocean's Thirteen is more of the same, but less.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

If they keep adding big names to the cast list with each successive picture, they're going to run out of stars before long.

Let's begin with a little history. In 1960 Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals made a comedy caper called "Ocean's 11" (or "Ocean's Eleven," since the opening titles used both numerals and letters). The movie was not very good, but it gave Sinatra and his cronies something to do in Vegas during the day while they were performing there at night, and audiences seemed to like watching the entertainers enjoying themselves in the film.

Flash forward about forty years to 2001, and director Steven Soderbergh remakes the picture as "Ocean's Eleven," getting the classiest guy in Hollywood, George Clooney, to do the Sinatra role and surrounding him with the most prominent actors he could find. The newer movie was considerably better than the older one, and the new cast seemed to be having at least as good a time as the old cast. Needless to say, the remake proved popular, so Soderbergh did what every Hollywood director does: He made a sequel. "Ocean's Twelve" in 2004 added yet more big names to the cast and exaggerated the plot to the point of absurdity. Perhaps because the story was so ridiculous and scattered, it didn't fare as well at the box office or with critics as the first one did; still, I enjoyed it best of all because I thought its breezy style, buoyant characters, and clever repartee harked back to the original better than the previous entry and because the whole thing seemed to poke more fun at itself.

Anyway, what did Soderbergh do when his second film didn't quite live up to expectations? In 2007 he made a sequel to the sequel to the remake of the original. In "Ocean's Thirteen" he tightened the plot line, added the best antagonist yet, and came up with a mediocre picture. The fact is, I think the cast was just a little tired of it all by now. Nevertheless, it's not a bad movie, just a remarkably weightless one that remains appealing mainly to see so many stars in one place in an ensemble cast.

The usual suspects are back in action: We've got Clooney again as the leader of the crew, Danny Ocean. Then we've got Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Andy Garcia, Eddie Izzard, Vincent Cassel, and producer Jerry Weintraub. But in this act the filmmakers have added even more big-timers to the cast roster: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, Julian Sands, and Oprah Winfrey among them.

The movie starts right out with one of the old crew up to his regular mischief, robbing a bank by burrowing through a next-door building. But there is more important business at hand: Reuben (Gould) has had a heart attack. It seems that Reuben invested all of his considerable fortune in a Las Vegas casino, partnering with a big-shot billionaire snake named Willie Bank (Pacino). They intended to call the casino the Midas, with each man a joint owner, but Bank double-crossed him, leaving him with nothing. Bank even changed the name of the place to the Bank Casino, and it was enough to put poor old Reuben into a coma.

One thing you know from watching these buddy movies is that you don't do dirty to one of the gang. These friends stick together, work together, and get even together. So Ocean and his pals set out to ruin Bank by bankrupting his new casino and stealing his most prized possessions, a case full of diamonds awarded to him for opening some of the biggest, most-fabulous hotels on the planet.

And that's it. In the movie's favor, Clooney is as charming as ever as Danny Ocean. Here's one of his best exchanges: Willie Bank threatens him, saying, "This town might have changed, but not me. I know people highly invested in my survival, and they are people who really know how to hurt in ways you can't even imagine." Danny casually responds, "Well, I know all the guys that you'd hire to come after me, and they like me better than you." The movie has several other good, humorous lines like this one, but if it had even more, it would have been funnier.

Matt Damon as the nerdy Linus Caldwell gets a juicy bit late in the picture, and Andy Garcia as Ocean's mark in the previous picture comes back to join the team this time. Remember, Garcia plays a rival casino owner who has as much to gain by Bank's downfall as anybody. However, the other returning stars don't get much space. Poor Brad Pitt hardly shows his face, and when he does, it's often in disguise. No Julia Roberts this time out, either.

Making up for it are Pacino and Barkin. Pacino does the full Pacino, a wonderful villain of a character, his Bank all ego--pompous, arrogant, and blustering. Bank tells us he owns more of Nevada than anybody in history, and he won't let us forget it. For all we know, he owns the Corleone estate on Lake Tahoe. What's more, he tells us he never, ever, loses. Which makes him all the better to bring down. And Barkin, as his right-hand man, er, woman, Abagail Sponder, is ruthlessly cold and efficient; plus at fifty-three she's still dead sexy.

Nevertheless, in tightening up the plot to a single hit on a single mark, the movie rather diminishes everything else. Gone is most of the humorous interplay found in the previous films, replaced by loads of high-tech gadgetry, absurd split-second timing, and ludicrously precise coincidences. I mean, by the time Ocean and his crew are bringing in the tunnel-drilling equipment used to connect England and France under the English Channel, with nobody noticing, you begin to wonder if maybe the filmmakers haven't strayed just a little off course.

Consequently, "Ocean's Thirteen" is all about the scam, its new focus leaving very little room for twists or turns or character relationships. I missed the old silliness.

The video quality on this one is hard to evaluate because Soderbergh seems to have gone out of his way to make it look as unnatural as possible. Or, conversely, the director went out of his way to make the movie look as much as possible like a garish 1960s' flick, with bright colors and split screens and such. On the positive side, the video engineers maintain the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and they use a high-bit-rate, anamorphic transfer to reproduce solid black levels and color depth. On the negative side, the opening shots are rather dark and grainy, with faces looking too reddish orange; then a moment later we get a daylight shot, and things are just as strange, the darkness and grain remaining. The fact is, as I say, Soderbergh chose to use a gaudy color palette, probably to remind one of the glitz and neon of Las Vegas, and he also appears to favor print grain. So that's what we get: Lots of dark, bright, oversaturated hues and lots of grain. In addition, the definition is somewhat soft, even for a standard-definition release, so the overall picture is not exactly what you would call realistic or true-to-life. Then again, neither is the movie, so maybe that's the point.

Warner Bros. offer two soundtracks on the disc: Dolby Digital 5.1 for folks with full surround-sound systems and Dolby Digital 2.0 for people using only a single pair of speakers. In DD 5.1, the filmmakers confine the sound to the center channel most of the time because it's mostly people talking. There are, however, times when the floors rumble with bass and the rear channels come alive with the sounds of casino crowds, rolling dice, clinking glasses, and musical backgrounds. In general, you'll find the sonics well balanced, clean, and smooth. It's just not a soundtrack that has much opportunity to show off the potential of 5.1-channel audio reproduction.

The disc includes only a modest batch of special features. The first is a twenty-two-minute featurette, "Vegas: An Opulent Illusion," which purports to be a history and overview of the city and its unique attractions but comes off more like a promotional from the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau. The second extra is a two-and-a-half-minute featurette, "Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk," in which the movie's producer takes us on a brief tour of the movie's sets. The last major extra is a series of five additional (deleted or extended) scenes, lasting about four-and-a-half minutes.

The extras conclude with some WB trailers at start-up only; thirty-four scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
Basically, what you get with "Ocean's Thirteen" is more of the same, but less. More plot, more watching the intricacies of the latest flimflam unfold, and less character interaction. Since for me it was always the character interaction that made the movies come alive (and why I liked the second installment best), this new one didn't strike me as anything special.


Film Value