So we’re back in Las Vegas for another casino heist, with the twist that Danny Ocean’s gang aren’t planning to break into the vault, but to rig all the games so that half a billion dollars are unwittingly given out to the players. Why do such a thing? This brings us to the villain of the piece, Willy Bank, played with amusing sleaziness by Al Pacino. Bank’s an egotistic, double-crossing, tasteless bastard snake who, shortly before the opening of his new hotel casino, screwed over his partner, one Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), sending him into a near-catatonic state. This obviously pisses off Ocean and all his old friends and partners, hence the plan to stick it to Bank.
What follows is pretty much a retread of what we’ve seen before, with only minor esthetic tweaks. Tons of high-tech gizmos, confidence schemes, silly accents, fake mustaches, fake hairpieces, even a fake nose, you see the drill. Oh yeah, there’s a big-ass drill, too. The series’ all-star cast (minus Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones — “It’s not their fight.”) still has neat ensemble chemistry and each individual brings his welcome flavor but, I gotta say, there’s a faint sense of them being there at least in part for the paycheck. I mean, as actors, guys like Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Shabo Qin, Don Cheadle and Eddie Jemison can’t possibly feel that they’re being challenged here or that they get anything all that interesting to do.
Even Clooney and Brad Pitt, who get the most screen time, don’t do much but coast on their charisma – though I liked the Oprah scene! Matt Damon fares better with what might be the funniest thing in the movie, a subplot about his character trying to seduce Bank’s right-hand (wo)man, a cougar (rwaarrr!) with what looks like rock-hard implants and industrially pumped and glossed lips! Kudos to Ellen Barkin, too, for being game enough to take this part and totally throw herself in it with wonderful shamelessness. I also really liked the segment set in Mexico, where Casey Affleck and Scott Caan wind up leading a workers revolt, Zapata-style!
What “Ocean’s Thirteen” really lacks is a strong villain. Pacino’s okay here, but his Willy Bank is no Terry Benedict. The latter is actually brought back here and we’re glad to get to enjoy Andy Garcia some more in the role, but his appearance is ultimately rather inconsequential, as is the extended cameo by Vincent Cassel, who returns as the Night Fox. No sight of Topher Grace, alas.
Behind the camera, Steven Soderbergh and his very close (ahem!) collaborator, D.O.P Peter Andrews, do a great job. The film is full of funky, oddball visual flourishes, everything looking eye-popping, electric, colorful and gaudily gorgeous – in other words, very Las Vegas. Hence, while the film’s undeniably a trifle, as an exercise in style, it’s pretty top notch. Another thing I have to mention is all the obscure lingo that’s thrown around. I have no idea what it means exactly to do a Billy Martin, a Susan B. Anthony, a Gilroy or the reverse Big Store, but it sure sounds cool! Ultimately, “Ocean’s Thirteen” is not a bad way to spend a summer afternoon at the old picture show, even though it’s eminently forgettable.