Movie review: ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’

Remakes are not always the best and the sub-genre of sequels to a remake can even be more difficult to do right. A couple of done-rights (or at least done-OKs) include “Jurassic Park III” (click here for my review) and “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” (click here for my review), but among the best and most profitable have been from the “Ocean’s Eleven” series with director Steven Soderbergh, who remade “Eleven” from the Rat Pack original from 1960. The second sequel isn’t worth mentioning since it’s a piece of crap, but it was profitable and that meant one more … so you have“Ocean’s Thirteen.” It is a great sequel to a remake and is the final excursion into fun by George Clooney and his crew. Enjoy it again … it appears to almost appear weekly somewhere in the digital universe.

‘Ocean’s Thirteen’
(2007; 122 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon)

LOYALTY KNOWS NO LIMIT, EVEN IN VEGAS

(NOTE: I expanded this review with some additional opinion and trivia and updated links on Dec. 1, 2018.)

Director Steven Soderbergh did a good job his remake “Ocean’s Eleven” (click here for my review) from the 1960 original (click here my review). He was careful in the updating, injected some fresh ideas and was the beneficiary of solid work by an expansive cast of actors ranging from good to great. He stumbled badly with the simply pathetic “Ocean’s Twelve,” regained his footing and dignity with “Ocean’s Thirteen.” It keeps the flavor of the series alive and – most importantly – makes it watchable.

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After “Ocean’s Twelve” went beneath the waves for fans like the Titanic in mid-ocean, the next film was rescued for several reasons: It is back in Las Vegas; its female lead was upgraded; and it seemed that fun became a major component again. The middle film was 14th at the box office (down from the remake’s top 10 finish), so “Ocean’s Thirteen” was hurt by the crappiness of “Twelve” in that respect.

In “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the guys get back together because “Reuben Tishkoff” (played by Elliot Gould) is cheated out of his part of a new casino by backstabbing owner Al Pacino, who plays “Willie Bank.” Gould suffers a stroke and is bedridden and the boys come running to his rescue. They give Pacino an out (the “Billy Martin” play as they call it) but he doesn’t take it and make things right for Gould and so the crew goes to work on revenge and restitution for him.

George Clooney reprises his role of “Danny Ocean” and sidekick/partner Brad Pitt as “Rusty Ryan” map a plan to torpedo the opening of Pacino’s new hotel and thereby get him kicked out by the casino’s board of directors. Back with the two are Matt Damon as “Linus Caldwell;” Carl Reiner as “Saul Bloom;” Eddie Jemison as “Livingston Dell;” Don Cheadle as “Basher Tarr;” Bernie Mac as “Frank Catton;” Shaobo Qin as “Yen;” and Scott Caan and Casey Affleck as the bickering brothers “Turk and Virgil Malloy.”

If you liked what you saw from Clooney and Pitt in “Eleven,” then you’ll like what you get here. It’s just that by the end of the film you know that they’ve done a good job but that this one is a “light” version of the original – not quite as good, but just as energetic and fun to watch.

Gould has a meatier role here than in the previous two. He does a solid job from his frenetic opening sequence trying to please Pacino to his bedridden time and finally back in action. Gould has most recently voiced in “Yellowbird.”

Here’s a quick character-by-character rundown for the rest of the crew (and I’m not doing my usual roundup of actors’ histories and awards):

  • Wonderful: Affleck this time heads to Mexico in order to alter the making of dice for the casino and winds up leading a workers’ revolt. He was in “Interstellar” and won an Oscar for “Manchester by the Sea.”
  • Good: Damon is his usual energetic, trying-to-prove himself crook and was in “The Monuments Men” with Clooney.
  • Good: Reiner again fakes his way inside the casino’s defenses (this time to spoil a hotel room so the hotel gets a bad rating) and continues to work.
  • Good: Caan does his usual workmanlike job and is simply perfect as the foil to Affleck’s banter. His best scene is with Affleck as they argue while letting a bundle of balloons cover up a security camera.
  • Good: Qin in his role as the phony high-roller from Asia. Qin, who was a member of the acclaimed Peking Acrobats, has only been in three films – all the “Ocean’s” franchise efforts.
  • Good: Cheadle does the heavy work with the tunneling device as well as conning Pacino with a motorcycle stunt.
  • Good: Jemison reprises his fidgety character as the group’s electronics expert and does his usual competent job.
  • OK: Like Pacino, Bernie Mac appears to be forcing his character just a little bit although he is good at the gambling trade show where he has to bait Pacino. He passed away in 2008 at the young age of 50 from complications from pneumonia.

Back with the crew is Eddie Izzard as “Roman Nagel,” a high-tech crook from “Twelve” who’s called in here to help them figure out an “exit strategy” to get away with the scam. Izzard is smooth and sophisticated and puts the finishing touches on the plan and ultimately even takes part in the mission. Izzard, who is best known for his cross-dressing comedy routines, has also been in “Valkyrie” and a number of TV roles.

As the bad guy, Pacino doesn’t do much here. He appears forcing some of his character’s personality traits (trying too hard with the domestic staff about winning an award, just to name one) and doesn’t seem sold – other than the paycheck – on this one. Pacino has also been in “Heat” (click here for my review), “Donnie Brasco” (click here for my review) as well as his signature role as “Michael Corleone” in “The Godfather” franchise.

The difference with the lead female role is that the marvelous Ellen Barkin is here and Julia Roberts and the talentless Catherine Zeta-Jones are not. I’m not a fan of Roberts and she was just window-dressing in “Eleven” and “Twelve” (at least she wasn’t a whinefest like the type brother Eric specializes in), while Zeta-Jones was simply annoying in “Twelve” (thank goodness neither returned for this one).

Barkin does a great job as “Abigail Sponder,” who is Pacino’s casino general manager. She’s tough, smart and looking to please her boss. Barkin sails from one scene to the next in a professional hurry only interrupted by her attraction to the character played by Damon in the scam. Barkin, who’s reunited here with Pacino (they were in “Sea of Love”), was great in “The Big Easy” (click here for my review) as well as the cult favorite “Diner.”

Overall, “Ocean’s Thirteen” is satisfying but don’t expect to see any more with these guys. The producer of all three films, Jerry Weintraub, was been quoted as saying there will not be another sequel. However, with another director, a spin-off called “Ocean’s Eight” came out in 2018 with Sandra Bullock headlining as Danny’s sister leading a group of women on a big-time caper in New York.

Ocean’s Thirteen” was the 26th ranked film at the U.S. box office in 2007 with $117.1 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It was right behind “Blades of Glory” and just ahead of “Ghost Rider.” Worldwide, “Ocean’s Thirteen” brought in $311.3 million on its $85 million budget, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Spider-Man 3” with $336.5 million. The only other film in the top 15 that I particularly enjoyed was the fall-down funny “Knocked Up,” which was 14th with $148.7 million. Here are the other films from 2007 that I’ve reviewed:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • The gold cellphone given to Pacino was custom made by Samsung for the movie.
  • The film’s producer, Jerry Weintraub, again had a small part in one of the “Ocean’s” films. He was (in the films’ chronological order) “High-Roller,” “American Businessman” and finally here as “Denny Shields.” Weintraub was a legend in Hollywood and he died at 77 in 2015 of cardiac arrest.
  • In a happy coincident for filmmakers, Damon filmed a scene while he was in London working on “The Bourne Ultimatum.” It was a Damon-only scene and the coincidence worked out well for “Ocean’s Thirteen.”
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The special scent that Linus puts on his neck to seduce Abigail is noted in a title card as “The Gilroy.” This is an in-joke on Tony Gilroy who wrote the screenplays for The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), all starring Matt Damon. Gilroy also wrote and directed Michael Clayton (2007), which stars George Clooney and is produced by Steven Soderbergh.”
  • All of Pacino’s scenes were filmed in three weeks.
  • Both the helipad and entrance scenes at the fictional Bank casino/resort were created and shot on the Warner Bros. lot.
  • The film is Soderbergh’s last to be shot completely on film.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Based upon the aerial shots of the Bank Casino, it is located near where the Planet Hollywood Casino, and the Miracle Mile Shopping Center are located on the Las Vegas Strip. Its location can also be confirmed by Terry Benedict who complains that the Bank Casino ‘throws a shadow over my pool’ (Meaning the ‘dancing waters’ pool in front of the Bellagio. The actual location shown on the aerial shot is across from the Monte Carlo near the Polo Towers with the Paris Hotel and Planet Hollywood still directly across the street from the Bellagio pool.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2018.
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