There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a refined sequel to a lackluster sequel to a mediocre remake of an edgy heist. After disappointments of “Spider-man 3,” “Shrek 3,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” we can finally escape the imminent summer heat with Steven Soderbergh’s (“The Good German”) “Ocean’s 13,” which not only entertains as a summer blockbuster, but also exceeds its franchise predecessors.
Despite its weak writing and uninspired plot, “Ocean’s 11” appropriately played the part of a suave thief in stealing audiences attention, flaunting high-end suits on A-list Hollywood studs. And, in archetypal sequel fashion, “Ocean’s 12” took an incredulous step beyond “11” by using a higher budget and filming in Europe.
With “13,” we find Soderbergh doesn’t slip where so many directors do: Assuming a higher budget will yield a more entertaining movie. “13” forgoes the inaccessibly foolish logistics of “12” – and even uses an estimated 10 million dollars less – so as to play upon the original style and pizzazz of “11.” Only “13” is distilled of “11’s” grandiosity until its left with a basic Vegas-hipster essence.
We catch-up with Danny Ocean (George Clooney, “Syriana”) and his clan of Armani clad thieves as they reunite to defend one of their own. Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould, “Ocean’s 12”) suffers a heart attack after getting screwed over in a hotel deal by Las Vegas real estate fiend Willie Bank (Al Pacino, “The Merchant of Venice”). Ocean’s gang vows to get revenge, at all costs.
And here is where “13” is essentially better than the previous films in the trilogy. We can finally identify with the protagonists as characters. They show emotional substance beyond faux disappointment over a failed banditry plan. Ocean’s band of brothers literally devotes all its pennies to vengeance. Unlike the other movies in the franchise, the thieves aren’t in it for the money. They’re doing it for their comrade.
And what they’re doing is rigging Bank’s casino so that on opening night they will literally break The Bank, Willie Bank’s aptly named casino. On their path to redemption and upscale vigilante justice, they recruit the help and funds of former nemesis, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, “Smokin’ Aces”).
Not only is there more substance to the characters in “13,” but the film also carries social commentary, albeit half-baked. Ocean and Rusty share in nostalgic waxing over a time when the Vegas strip wasn’t as showy. A time, they refer to as “smaller.”
The conversation holds all the more meaning coming from downplayed stars. Unlike “11” and “12,” “13” doesn’t show-off its stacked cast. Each star is just a link in the chain. Clooney, Pitt, Damon and Pacino are all as crucial to the movie as the soundtrack’s astrolounge beats and the city of Las Vegas. Yet, no one actor or element is spotlighted. Everything is casually calculated and the product is a balanced and satisfying movie. But Ocean and Rusty’s conversation extends beyond the movie’s self-consciousness. It’s a commentary on the ostentation of so much of society, namely summer blockbusters.
Don’t read too much into it though. That’s not Soderbergh’s point with “13.” While Soderbergh has polished his style as the director of the “Ocean’s” franchise, he has come to the conclusion in “13” that the movie should just be fun and accessible. And it is. The movie is eye candy, and everyone involved knows it, from the director to the actors to the guy eating his popcorn in the back row.
“13” may take two and a half hours to culminate and unwind all the expected twists, but it doesn’t feel nearly that long. With playful sequences about characters embracing Latin American revolutionista culture and the absence of distractions like Julia Roberts playing a character playing Julia Roberts, “Ocean’s 13” is basic, stylish, soulful and, above all, cool. And thankfully, there are no French super thieves dancing through laser fields.
At Quality 16 and Showcase
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars