Friday, 14 June 2024

Vegas action lifts lucky 'Ocean's 13' to great fun


The ubiquitous advertising slogan for Las Vegas needs a slight rewrite. What happens in Vegas shouldn’t necessary stay in Vegas, especially if it involves creating an entertaining caper movie about a bunch of fun-to-watch con men pulling a huge job on a casino. By all means, “Ocean’s Thirteen” needs to be shared far and wide, as it deftly returns to the basic set-up of “Ocean’s Eleven,” the successful remake of the old Rat Pack movie.

“Thirteen,” for now a lucky number, makes one forget the more mediocre “Ocean’s Twelve.” At last, contrary to recent film-going experiences, here’s a third installment in a franchise that does not get the Third Place ribbon.

Once again, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) round up their motley crew of con artists and crooks for an exceedingly risky casino heist that needs to be executed almost flawlessly.

The objective this time is not so much money but sweet revenge. Having ignored some good advice from his compatriots, criminal mentor Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) unwisely entered a business partnership with ruthless casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino).

Not surprisingly, slick Willy double-crosses Reuben on his investment, sending him straight to the hospital after a near-fatal collapse. Proving honor among thieves, Danny and Rusty decide they must avenge this horrible mistreatment of a dear and valued friend. Of course, there’s only one way to hit a casino owner.

Danny, Rusty and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) figure that their fast-moving plot to destroy Willy Bank involves bringing down the Bank Casino on the night of its grand opening. Their two-fold strategy requires financial ruin by turning the tables on the notion that the house always wins and destroying Bank’s reputation as the only hotelier to have earned the coveted Five Diamond Award on every single one of his hotels.

The plan is so elaborate and expensive that they are forced to get financing from their old nemesis, casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the guy they swindled in the first movie.

Naturally, making a pact with the devil gets a little messy, especially when Benedict insists on doubling his return and getting Bank’s prized diamond necklace collection that is housed in an impregnable fortress. Assisted by his right-hand woman Abigail Sponder (slinky Ellen Barkin), Willy is such a despicable person that Benedict is offended by his rival’s crassness, to say nothing of the fact that the Bank Casino now shadows Benedict’s hotel pool.

To make the heist work, the operation has to function as a well-oiled machine with all the parts meshing together. To this end, the crew has certain responsibilities, often leading to humorous situations.

The squabbling Malloy brothers, Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan, respectively), end up working under sweatshop conditions in a Mexican factory that produces gaming equipment, and they become distracted from their mission to produce loaded dice when they lead a strike for better working conditions. Veteran flimflam artist Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) impersonates a snooty Brit in order to trick the hotel staff into believing that he’s the incognito hotel reviewer sent to assess the casino’s desire for a five-star rating.

Meanwhile, the real hotel critic (David Paymer) is subjected to the most outrageous misfortune at the hands of Ocean’s 11, only to torpedo the Bank Casino’s fervent wish for the exclusive rating.

The mechanical genius of the group, Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) is not so busy operating heavy equipment underneath the targeted casino that he can’t pen an endless series of sentimental notes filled with sappy inspirational messages designed to cheer up the recovering Reuben.

The master of sleight of hand, Frank (Bernie Mac) finagles his way on the casino floor for the grand opening by devising a variation of dominoes that Willy can’t resist.

Real-life Chinese acrobat Shaobo Qin, limber enough to squeeze into tiny spaces, expands his role by portraying enigmatic real estate mogul Mr. Weng, who puts up a $10 million dollar stake so that he and his assistant, Linus, can score an exclusive high-roller suite for a base of operations.

One of the funnier scenes has Linus disguised as Lenny Pepperidge, complete with a ridiculous prosthetic nose, using ultra-powerful pheromones to seduce Abigail with some manufactured “chemistry.” Even the Malloy brothers have a bit of wicked fun when evicting a hotel guest.

Most of the glee is in the abundance of give-and-take in the wisecracks and banter between the crew of con men who are exceedingly cool and unflappable.

The virtue of “Ocean’s Thirteen” is that the actors are completely comfortable playing their characters in a truly functional ensemble effort.

While Al Pacino seems not to be used to his full potential for villainy, the focus is rightly on the pleasure derived from the movie’s hip and cool attitude.

Fortunately, “Ocean’s Thirteen” recaptures the breezy spirit of the original film (not the Sinatra version, but the one directed by Steven Soderbergh, who obviously regained his form in his third outing).

Simply stated, “Ocean’s Thirteen” is a sleek vessel of wonderful entertainment, mostly for plenty of amusing dialogue and great con jobs.

Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


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