Ocean’s 13 is forgettable fun

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, like so many others this summer, begs the question, “How many times can Hollywood return to the same handful of ideas and still make decent pictures?”

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, like so many others this summer, begs the question, “How many times can Hollywood return to the same handful of ideas and still make decent pictures?” As Pirates 3, Spider-Man 3, and Shrek 3 have all shown us, the third time is rarely the charm. If anything, the third time is usually a tired rehash of the same old characters, plopped into similar but slightly different situations.

In the latest attempt to show us how suave and unbeatable this batch of Hollywood A- and B-listers is, the plot and just about everything in Ocean’s 13 is as predictable as Christmas falling in December. Let’s see here: a villainous Las Vegas hotel/casino owner named Bank (Al Pacino) has done wrong to a friend of Danny Ocean (George Clooney). Ocean assembles everyone from the past two movies, except Julia Roberts (thankfully), to exact revenge in a way that is way out of proportion to Bank’s wrongdoing. That is, Ocean plans to severely sabotage the grand opening of Bank’s new casino, by not only robbing him blind, but by stealing away the big-money players and faking an earthquake (!).

The main attraction of the film is the stars on screen, talking fast, being cool, and beating the bad guy. And this movie has quite a stellar cast, including Ellen Barkin as Bank’s assistant. She happens to be a cougar (that is, a middle-aged woman with a thing for younger guys) who seems to like guys with big noses that dress like Dr. Evil. The always-amusing Eddie Izzard is severely underused as one of Ocean’s newer thieves-for-hire. Finally, there’s Pacino, who is appealing, but like much of the cast, is such a star in his own right that it is hard to watch the film and not think, “Hey, there’s Pacino acting like Pacino!” or, “Hey, there’s Brad Pitt acting smug!”

And smugness is really one of the most noticeable character traits of all of Ocean’s crew. No matter what the obstacle is, nor how much money is needed to invest in higher-than-high tech gadgets and machinery to pull off the many elaborate cons, Pitt and Clooney always play it way, way cool and seem to be perpetually smirking. This pair often finishes each other’s… sandwiches. No, I mean finish each other’s sentences. They are so cool, calm and collected on screen, it sometimes feels like we’re at a party where the hosts are too cool for us, their guests. It can be a bit too hard to watch characters who are so in love with themselves, and each other. Of course, part of the escapist fun of the Ocean’s movies is that it’s nice to feel like we know someone who is cooler than cool, someone who, no matter how bad it gets, will come out ahead in the end.

This is also a movie in love with the past. Pitt and Clooney reminisce about the way Vegas used to be, and much ado is made about the fact that “You shook Sinatra’s hand; you should know better.” Honor, loyalty, friendship and merciless revenge seem to be the themes throughout the film, plus there’s an odd subplot about some plastic dice manufacturers in Mexico going on strike. So we see camaraderie on a personal and global level.

The main problem with this film is just how utterly formulaic the plot is, but that’s what people tend to like about three-quels. The first film in the series lays out an idea, the second film typically varies it up a little, and then the third film basically repeats what we’ve already seen in the first two films. This is the kind of movie where you expect double-crossing; you expect people to be not who they say they are; you expect the heist jobs to not quite go according to plan. So when people get double-crossed, when names turn out to be aliases, and when the plans go a little awry, it’s not that interesting. It’s just what you expected.

The Fourth of July fireworks at the film’s closing are a good symbol for what this movie really is: colorful, cheery, and pleasant enough to watch, but really insubstantial, and you won’t remember it five minutes after it’s done.