Ocean’s Thirteen

Staying in Vegas

Ocean’s Thirteen. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Al Pacino star in a film written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Who woulda’ thunk that Steven Soderbergh, who launched his career with the proto-indie film Sex, Lies, and Videotape and made oddities like Schizopolis and Kafka, would sign onto a gravy-train summer blockbuster franchise? But, alas, a guy’s gotta make a living. Ocean’s Thirteen is the third formulaic (if undeniably fun) spin of the Rat Pack-ish idea and the second Soderbergh-directed entry in the Vegas caper series. Intelligent narrative and character development aren’t required here. Only popcorn film voltage is necessary, which it again delivers.

But the franchise ups its integrity with Soderbergh on board, as he gives it a cachet of cinematic hipness and wink wink, “we know this is cheesy but roll with it”

laissez-faire. He likes to play the game stylistically loose, as if in recognition of the importance of style in the absence of content. The fact that Soderbergh employs both big-budget blockbuster slickness and rough stuff-i.e., hand-held camera and choppy editing-suggests he’s in search of some indie-flick cred, too.

As before, a suave, wisecrack-dispensing team-led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt-embroil themselves in an elaborate Vegas caper, beating the odds one carefully calibrated maneuver at a time. This time around, though, the payoff is not so much a bundle of cash as a jackpot of high-stakes revenge. They’re aiming to make sure an unscrupulous casino mogul (Al Pacino, a comically ruthless thug), who cheated their friend (Elliott Gould) into a coma, gets epic comeuppance.

Clooney and Pitt don’t sweat much in this series; the job requirement is to remain glib and handsome at all times. Weirdly, love interests or even casual female interests are kept out of the picture. In a couple of scenes, we catch Clooney/Pitt at least talking about romantic liaisons, but in cryptic code. The only near sexual encounter in the film is a funny trystus interruptus with the great Ellen Barkin, seduced by Matt Damon, who dons a grotesque fake nose.

They don’t get (or apparently want) The Girl, but it’s no sin or spoiler alert to reveal that they get the money and the desired resolution. The real charm of the series is in watching, with fetishistic delight, the mechanisms of a major caper in a town where morality is negotiable.

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