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Flotsam and jetsam

The tars are adrift in Ocean’s Thirteen
By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  June 5, 2007
2.0 2.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Ocean's Thirteen

Steven Soderbergh’s third “Ocean” film — continuing a franchise that is already miles beyond and hundreds of millions of dollars ahead of the Rat Pack paradigm from which it’s derived — is a pastry of a movie, airy, insubstantial, and meant to fill in the gaps between heartier meals. It could hardly be anything else; no one in 1960 needed to be told that the first Ocean’s 11 was all about sharing hang time with Sinatra and the boys as they tippled, improvised dialogue, and cracked one another up. The new films have reincarnated this situation: Clooney and Soderbergh are mildly notorious for preferring to work with their ever-expanding circle of friends, and so the films play something like this wise-ass brotherhood’s home movies, as the crew ironically act out the undemanding plots and in the meantime live their fantabulous lives. We can’t all quaff prime Chianti with Clooney on his Lake Como veranda, so this is the tidbit of star-fuck frisson we get instead.

One could hardly be blamed for getting worked into a cynical corner by Ocean’s Thirteen, which is pretty much like its brethren, minus Julia Roberts’s microgram of dramatic fuel. But that doesn’t mean, as summer movies go, that it isn’t witty, or grown-up, or sly, or diverting. It is, but it’s also absolutely disposable. This time, the original group clustered around Clooney’s Danny Ocean (they don’t seem to have lives otherwise, social or professional) become intent on pulling another massive, multi-pronged heist on another Vegas casino, solely because the owner (new villain Al Pacino) has goldbricked business partner Reuben (Elliott Gould), who subsequently suffers a heart attack. Soderbergh and his screenwriters would have us believe that Ocean’s confederacy of thieves (Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, et al.) are one-for-all blood brothers who would risk their lives and their freedom for the sake of big-biz revenge. What’s more, they presume that we share the love in the room.

There are rewards: Casey Affleck’s techie, on a mission to load dice at the Mexican factory in which they’re manufactured, ends up leading a Zapatista workers’ rebellion, and Clooney and Pitt share an adorable offhand scene tearily watching an episode of Oprah. These are detours, of course, and we never miss the bath bubble of a narrative when it’s not floating around. When it is, the cataract of quick exposition and techno-yack can get numbing. (You wonder whether the plot line of Ocean’s Twenty-Five won’t take place entirely on a laptop.) Otherwise, the actors are offered only shtick, and since there are more of them this time (including Eddie Izzard’s heist consultant and Ellen Barkin’s casino dragon lady), the shtick time has shrunk in most cases to mere seconds.

You won’t remember the movie as you step out onto the sidewalk — and in a year’s time, I suspect, neither will the cast and crew. Heist movies have traditionally been about Greed and Fate, but Ocean’s Thirteen isn’t about anything at all, unless you regard the splendid time had by its cast as the subject matter. (“Settle down, have a few kids,” Clooney joshes Pitt.) And unless sharing that splendid time from a distance seems to be entertainment enough.

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