Ocean’s Thirteen

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            To enjoy “Ocean’s Thirteen,” you have to slip into a certain mood that may just be out of reach for some of us. The basic conceit of the movie is that making it was a holiday for a group of actors who enjoy their own company. They pepper the script with in jokes; they are as low key as it is possible to be without being asleep. These guys are having a very good time, and now and then, so are we, but the stretches between the good times are long and often boring. It’s stylish at all times, clever some of the time, and sluggish now and then.

            Al Pacino steals the opening scene that rolls over us even before the opening credits. He is Willy Bank, partner in a new casino with Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould). Seconds after we meet them on the construction site, Bank fires Reuben and leaves him there in the midst of a heart attack. Pacino, great villain that he is, makes us so instantly angry that we are all set to support Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his merry band as they exact revenge on Mr. Bank on behalf of the discarded Reuben. That’s the plot: Reuben must be given a reason to live.

            Each member of Danny’s pack plays a role in his plan to drive Bank’s customers away from the casino – now wonderfully called “The Bank.” And so we are invited to watch these people create a false earthquake with a tunnel drill ($36,000,000) borrowed from the neighboring competitor who snarls, “Go ahead, The Bank casts a shadow over my pool.” And consider this nice judgment by Mr. Weng of Mr. Benedict (Andy Garcia): “he owns all the air south of Bejing; he has no taste; take him down.” Those are the good lines in this caper.

            This is a movie about devices – the details of them and their role in the grand scheme. The problem is that many of them are so subtle that their intricacies elude the audience. The pack sabotages a hotel reviewer with bedbugs and rotten shitake mushrooms and plays all kinds of games with chemicals, powders, and gimmicks. They put the fix in on every gaming table with such inspirations as dice manufactured and magnetized in Mexico where the requisite stuff is sprinkled into the vats at the source. You get the idea.

            The in jokes: A big false nose that covers Matt Damon’s own cute upturned one that undermines him when he plays serious characters; then there’s the moment Clooney turns to Pitt and advises him to “go have some kids.” Best joke: the Oprah scene, written and acted with humor and affection. The stylishness of the actors makes us want to watch Clooney and Pitt tear into a crackling good script. For the moment though, they are asking us to enjoy watching them as much as they enjoy being themselves in a mediocre one.

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