2007 appears to have been the year of thirds, meaning the third entry in some highly visible film franchises. We had a third Shrek movie, a third Jason Bourne movie, a third Pirates of the Caribbean movie and a third Ocean’s Eleven movie. What does all of this mean? Absolutely nothing. It’s just a coincidence but I needed a way to open this review.
The real pleasure we get from watching movies like Ocean’s Thirteen has very little to do with storytelling, but derives from watching a lot of rich, good-looking people having a lot of fun doing things most of us just dream about. It’s fortunate that this is actually entertaining because there’s not a lot going on here in terms of story. Underneath its shiny, well-polished Ferrari exterior is a squeaky hamster wheel and the hamster is on a long coffee break. Most of it doesn’t make it a lot of sense but we don’t notice because, frankly, people are talking too fast and, as I said, having a lot of fun.
The plot has something to do with the gang seeking revenge against a powerful Las Vegas hotel owner played by Al Pacino, who screwed their mentor, Elliott Gould, out of a major deal. Their goal is not to rip him off but to ruin the opening of his latest ultra-glitzy hotel on the Vegas Strip, a slick-looking but architecturally impossible bit of CGI that looks like you’re watching Blade Runner while dropping acid.
The fuzzy, difficult to understand plan involves ensuring that all of his much-coveted whales win millions at the same time while sabotaging the “five diamond” rating that all of Pacino’s hotels have received. It requires outsmarting both an “artificial intelligence” security system that would seem far-fetched on an episode of Star Trek and Ellen Barkin, Pacino’s second-in-command, who has a very intense reaction to certain olfactory stimuli.
The real problem with this movie is that Pacino’s character is a pretty weak villain. The worst thing he seems to do is fire people, which he does a lot, but he just doesn’t seem to possess the same level of menace as Andy Garcia in the first two movies. Speaking of Garcia, he’s shoehorned into the story as Clooney’s reluctant ally in order to get the title head count up to thirteen.
You might notice that I’ve been referring to the actors’ names, because the characters are so thin they are really just aliases for Mssrs. Clooney, Pitt and Damon. Only Don (“How did I get stuck with this British accent?”) Cheadle appears to be playing an actual role. At least, they are having fun, indulging in wry, self-reverential humor, dropping their personal lives into the fast-paced dialog. The site of George Clooney and Brad Pitt getting teary-eyed over an episode of Oprah is almost worth the price of admission all by itself. This is probably the closest you’re ever going to spend to spending two hours hanging out with these guys, but the biggest difference between this is the stars’ home movies is the budget.