I don’t know when it happened, maybe sometime in the late 1990’s, but I got the vibe that movies weren’t being made to be fun anymore. They were either these large beasts swelled with self-importance or quick grabs for box office from the lowest common denominator, but definitely not fun. While I enjoyed a great many film, I didn’t get the feeling that the films were just a blast, created simply to be a happy departure for the audience. Everything felt heavier. And maybe that’s more telling of me than the actual output of films, but that’s the vibe I was wading in.
“Ocean’s Thirteen,” however, is fun. And not just fun, but crafted to the series’ strengths, an offering to the fans of the essence of cool that always existed either on the face (“Ocean’s Eleven”) or just underneath the surface (“Ocean’s Twelve”). I went into the film with mixed expectations, as I will admit to enough of an appreciation of George Clooney and Brad Pitt that two hours of them mugging for the camera wouldn’t be THAT annoying, but I also wanted something more than just hitting all the bases of prancing mega-celebrities. To my somewhat surprise, “Ocean’s Thirteen” elevated itself to everything the series should be, which is an over-the-top celebrity cartoon of cool and a tilt-a-whirl of fun.
The third in Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Numerical” series is a Las Vegas revenge tale. When Ocean compatriot Reuben (Elliot Gould) gets screwed out of his life-savings in a crummy hotel deal with hotel impresario Willy Bank (Pacino), the shock to his system literally sends him into the shock of a heart attack. Angry at Bank and protective of their friend, Danny Ocean (Clooney), Rusty (Pitt) and the whole gang come together with the sole purpose of rigging Bank’s new casino’s opening night so that the house loses over $500 million, which would result in Bank’s losing the casino. Of course, screwing a hotel / casino out of $500 million in one evening requires a lot of planning, a lot of disguises and a number of cons, which is all we as the audience want to see anyway.
The film succeeds because it immediately gives the audience what it wants. Within the first 15 minutes, we’re already knee-deep in planning Bank’s downfall. The pace is rapid, the plot complex and overall an absolute thrill. If you can suspend disbelief enough to accept that the lengths to which they go to get revenge is only way they can handle this situation, then you’re hooked.
I mention the suspension of disbelief because, well, their revenge plot is insanely complex and expensive. So expensive that they have to bring in an investor at one point and… it would’ve most likely been cheaper just to pay a hitman to take Bank out or, as everyone in the Ocean’s gang is pretty rich at this point, they maybe all could’ve just put a million bucks apiece in an account for Reuben. Of course, they can’t do these two simple plans because they’re Ocean’s gang and anything less than a massive undertaking just wouldn’t be cool.
Once again, that’s where the film succeeds, as we the audience want the characters to be cool, to act cool to be the very definition of cool. Smooth. Everything suave that the rest of us aren’t. So the film delivers.
This is more of the type of sequel fans wanted to “Ocean’s Eleven” rather than what “Ocean’s Twelve” turned out to be; more glitzy, comfortable Vegas. Not to say “Ocean’s Twelve” is a bad film, I’m one of the few that didn’t hate it (let down by the ending and it was harder to swallow the “overly complicated” pill), but it felt like a side-step from the type of life these guys were normally living in, the type of environment they should exist in. Las Vegas, a character in itself, brings it all back to the good.
“Ocean’s Thirteen” is cool, hilarious and fun beyond all expectations. A fitting extension of the Ocean’s gang story, and the perfect way to spend your movie-going evening, living life in the shoes of those smarter, wittier and way cooler than you.