Personality is noticeably lacking in director Steven Soderbergh’s cotton candy caper that should, but won’t, end his superfluous Ocean’s franchise. George Clooney and the rest of the well-dressed criminal crew return to Las Vegas, after their Ocean’s Twelve European foray, to come to the vengeful aid of their respected pal Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Reuben ends up in critical condition from the traumatizing shock of having his fiscal posterior handed to him by dirty dealer Willy Bank (Al Pacino) who Reuben went into partnership with because both men “shook Sinatra’s hand.”
Danny Ocean (Clooney) and the boys hatch a convoluted plan to wreck Willy’s magnificent new hotel and casino “The Bank” (a spiraling triad skyscraper created to beautiful effect with CGI) on the night of the hotel’s July 3rd “soft opening.” The story then becomes a drone of white noise, color and empty spectacle punctuated by dead-end subplots that lead to a predictable backslapping conclusion.
On the surface, Pacino’s presence would seem to elevate Ocean’s Thirteen to a reasonable level of entertainment. Instead, screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders) paste together disjointed cartoon elements for Pacino’s orange-tanned character then leave him in the shadows for most of the movie.
Covering their bets from all angles, the team of good bad guys turn to insider mastermind Roman Nagel (Eddie Izzard) to overcome the “Bank’s” seemingly unassailable security system. Goof brothers Virgil Malloy (Casey Affleck) and Turk Malloy (Scott Caan) are dispatched to a dice manufacturing plant in Mexico where they dump magnetizing powder in vats while getting sidetracked to lead a socialist revolution among factory workers. “Fixed” card shufflers are tweaked and brought into the hotel along with rigged slot machines.
Still and all, the key to sabotaging the hotel’s gigantic artificial intelligence computer lies in creating an earthquake type of disruption using a giant drill last employed to excavate the Chunnel between Britain and France. Don Cheadle’s “Basher Tarr” is put in charge of operating the giant submarine contraption that jams and sends the overspent group hustling financing from former enemy Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) to purchase the other Chunnel digger used to carve dirt from the French side. Benedict agrees to fund the machine on the condition that the crew steals Willy’s precious diamonds in return.
Opposite the mechanical contrivances are a couple of Jerry Lewis-type sequences involving David Paymer as a reserved Five-Diamond-Award evaluator who falls prey to unhelpful hotel staff and cruel booby traps. Carl Reiner, in the meantime, deflects attention as Kensington Chubb, the phony evaluator that the hotel staff bend over backwards to please. Putting a rubber nose on the film’s impertinent stabs at comedy is Matt Damon as Lenny Pepperidge, an upwardly mobile personal assistant to international gambler Mr. Weng (Shaobo Qin). Lenny seduces Willy’s otherwise skeptical assistant Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin) in a scene that seems like an outtake from an Austin Powers movie.
Ocean’s Thirteen is a distinct example of everything wrong with Hollywood. It’s a bloated, shiny surface, popcorn movie that could put you to sleep before you get down to the unbuttered popcorn at the bottom of the bag.
Here is a “sellout” film project that will bankroll serious films for Soderbergh, Clooney and perhaps Pitt and Cheadle. To that end, the would-be audience member might as well put on her finest evening dress, buy a movie ticket, skip the flick and go to the jazziest event in town to act out her own suave attitude.
She’ll have a lot more fun, and be fitfully engaged in a tangible social activity rather than pretending she wish she’d shook Sinatra’s hand. After all, Harry Connick Jr. is no slouch, and he’s alive. MTW