If you sat through Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve, you might have a dim sense by Ocean’s Thirteen that George Clooney is supposed to be Danny and Brad Pitt is named Rusty. Character is secondary; the franchise coasts by on star wattage. Tellingly, the biggest laughs in Ocean’s Thirteen come when Clooney and Pitt—who are always Clooney and Pitt, and carry themselves in suave accordance—stand quietly and sniffle up at a Very Special Episode of Oprah. Plot? What plot?
Actually, there isn’t much bother for one in Steven Soderbergh’s latest excuse for his A-list dude-bros to shoot the shit, eat craft services, and walk away with a seven-digit paycheck. Where Eleven was a crumpled labyrinth of allegiances and cons, Thirteen is a straight shot done up in grandeur, like a shotgun home encrusted with diamonds. Team mascot Reuben (Elliott Gould) has just been double-crossed in a five-star hotel-casino deal by wheeler-dealer Willie Bank (Al Pacino, wearing a lot of hot pink), who owns most of Nevada. (The casino is such a luxury, its “silver”ware is solid gold.) The shock of bankruptcy—more of self-esteem than cash—puts Reuben in the hospital, leaving George and Brad, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac and the rest of their coterie (why bother with their pretend names) to avenge themselves on Willie’s grand opening night.
The whys and hows of this Rube Goldberg con are set up in the first scenes—some loaded die, some rigged slots, some pulled-in favors (including from Andy Garcia’s Terry Benedict), and a faux earthquake to shake up the casino’s Hal-esque artificially intelligent security system named Greco. All that’s left is the execution. And as that’s alley-ooped with nary a snag, it seems that between all the glitz and glib, the film forgot that it needs tension. There’s no tease or suspense, just game-set-match, as the boys screw with Pacino. It has all the listless risk and adventure of watching as your brother plays Zelda or shakes up a scorpion in a jar.
Admittedly, it’s not painful to grok two hours of Clooney and Pitt strutting around looking cool. (Everyone else, save occasional bits with Damon, is as individual as Teletubbies.) In fact, it’s almost fun to calculate how little effort they and Soderbergh invest in their likely hit—in some scenes, they don’t even bother with full conversations, just fragments and grunts. All the pizazz comes from the groovy disco soundtrack. And that, magically, it’s still more appealing than painful made me realize that the series is tapping into the most primal and unshakable need of all: The middle-school eagerness to hang with the popular kids. It’s like getting invited to their lunch table and trying to forget that it cost you nine bucks. Hey! There’s Brad in a silly ‘70s rocker mustache! And his ring tone plays Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?” Though everyone’s having an okay time, the film seems almost jaded by itself.
At the screening I went to, the only time the room burst into whoops was when cartoon digits popped up over the casino tables showing how much stupid great cash their scheme was pulling—a field of intangible six-figure numbers that vanished in an instant. Accordingly, the film has only one authentic moment of conscience when Casey Affleck and Scott Caan describe the worker riots stalling the scam at the Mexican dice manufacturing plant they infiltrated. The factory men were holding out for 36. “Only $36,000?” one says, already moving towards his checkbook. “No, just $36,” Affleck says. The face of Angelina’s baby daddy turns grave, registering this appalling global inequity.
Cut to Bernie Mac in a silly vest. What was his character’s name again?