Blame it on the scarcity of natural light, or maybe the widespread absence of clocks, but Steven Soderbergh seems to have overstayed his Sin City welcome. His series of Oceans movies, which began as a breezy kiss-off to Hollywoods self-aggrandizing tentpole blockbusters, had already, by Oceans Twelve, begun to feel a little too cool for the room. Now, Soderbergh has made a movie so cool its practically comatose. Sputtering along from one half-cocked gag line and self-satisfied in-joke to the next, Oceans Thirteen is as slapdash and slipshod a three-quel as any in this summers box-office sweepstakes. Its as if, like Sinatra in the days when he was playing short sets and forgetting lyrics, Soderbergh and company thought they just had to show up and wed be entertained.
From the beginning, the Oceans movies have been as ephemeral as one of George Clooneys shit-eating grins, and youd be crazy to buy a ticket expecting to see a work of any great substance. But Oceans Eleven had real verve and snap, and a puckish fun that came from watching Soderbergh and his A-list pals play hooky in the neon jungle for a fraction of their usual salaries. Then something unexpected happened: The movie turned into a monster international hit. Soon, a sequel was in demand, and by the time it arrived, what had started out as an off-the-cuff alternative to bloated Hollywood franchise movies had gone from parody to paradigm.
In Oceans Thirteen, there is a plot, so to speak, though it would take a good deal longer to relate than I suspect it took the screenwriting team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders) to come up with. The gist is that an unscrupulous casino baron oh-so-cleverly named Willy Bank (Al Pacino, dyed George Hamilton orange) has screwed Ocean-gang father figure Reuben (Elliott Gould) out of his share of a joint hotel venture, the stress from which has landed Reuben in the ER with a coronary. So Danny (Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) and Linus (Matt Damon) and Dorothy and Toto and all the rest drop what theyre doing and rush to Reubens bedside, where an elaborate, seemingly impossible revenge scheme is hatched. The plan is to make off with a few hundred million of Banks loot not by stealing it, but by winning it, from his own casino tables after, of course, theyve been systematically rigged to pay out over and over and over again.
In the event that you maintain some uncertainty about how this all ends, far be it from me to give up the game. Lets just say that its hard to get too worked up about a heist in which every last piece snaps into place with the ease of a childs jigsaw puzzle. Need to rig a craps table with some radio-controlled dice? Send those intrepid Malloy brothers (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck) undercover in the Mexican sweatshop where the dice are manufactured! Need some last-minute cash to bankroll your scheme? Just turn to your longtime arch-nemesis (Andy Garcia), wholl be only too happy to oblige! Need a conveniently timed, Irwin Allenstyle earthquake to wreak havoc with Banks ultra-high-tech security system? Well, you get the idea. In Oceans Thirteen, Danny Ocean has developed such an outsize ability to make happen whatever he wants to happen that the movie could be considered Soderberghs first foray into the superhero genre. After a while, I actually began to feel sympathetic for old money-grubbing Bank. With odds like these, he doesnt stand a fighting chance.
I realize, of course, that none of these things are supposed to matter, that any movie called Oceans followed by some double-digit numeral is meant to be such a rollicking good ride that you wont have time to think about what does or doesnt hold water. But in Oceans Thirteen, the insouciant charm wears off early, and what seemed carefree about the earlier films comes to seem careless, from the lazy plotting to Soderberghs I-can-put-the-camera-wherever-the-fuck-I-want-and-shoot-everything-on-a-zoom-lens direction. This time, the con is on the audience.
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OCEANS THIRTEEN | Directed by STEVEN SODERBERGH | Written by BRIAN KOPPELMAN and DAVID LEVIEN | Produced by JERRY WEINTRAUB | Released by Warner Bros. | CitywideQuestion or comment? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on our movie blog.