If you haven't checked in with Danny Ocean and company since 2004's Ocean's Twelve or, perhaps better yet, since 2001's Ocean's Eleven, you've had enough time to miss them and let your memory of the plot mechanics get happily hazy. Those with more recent (or simply keener) memories of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's flicks may experience lingering feelings of deja vu. Here again a rich, powerful, and smarmy casino owner rubs Ocean the wrong way. Look out, chump! There's no stopping George Clooney and his wacky bunch of movie stars and character actors!
When Al Pacino's Willie Bank stiffs Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould)—one of Ocean's original Eleven—out of his golden-years parachute, elaborate plans immediately begin to hatch. Moolah will have to be raised, traps will have to be boobied, diamonds will have to be stolen, and generally speaking, the house will have to be made to lose. Con-man argot will be slung: talk of "an Irwin Allen," "The Gilroy," and most crucially, "a reverse Big Store" may make you long for "a Permament Goodbye" for the franchise. Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon have been publicly promising exactly that, with something less than perfect credibility. Where there's money involved, all bets are off. Err, well, you know what I mean.
"You don't run the same gag twice," insists Don Cheadle's Cockney bloke Basher Tarr. "You do the next gag." And yet, in its narrative spine and as hammered into our brains by ubiquitous trailers and TV spots, the plot of Thirteen is old, old news. And the plan to wreak revenge on Bank and his casino ("The Bank") isn't terribly ingenious. Several of the small cons required to pull off the long con are utterly unconvincing, and Soderbergh does his best to misdirect us from head-scratching plot spackle (how, for instance, does swapping mugshots of Ocean's crew out of Bank's sight make them any less likely to be apprehended, since the security staff has the real ones?).
The stars—particularly Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and Andy Garcia—continue to charm, and Al Pacino never wears out his welcome here. The double act of Casey Affleck and Scott Caan still works. David Paymer carries a dopey subplot. Fringe players like Eddie Izzard and Bob Einstein enliven key scenes. And though Clooney and Pitt wink to their celebrity before the credits roll, the smug factor has receded notably from the obnoxiously self-aware Ocean's Twelve; on the other hand, there's a fleeting joke at Adrien Brody's expense that feels more mean than playful.
A subplot goofing on Mexican labor issues likewise seems churlish in a movie about playing with money, even in the name of justice for a friend. And then there's Ellen Barkin, whose sad role in the film is to be what Frank Sinatra and friends might've called the broad, the floozy, the chick, the doll, the dame. She's there to wobble in tight dresses and embarrass herself by falling all over men (Pacino and Damon, for the record). Her compensation: she looks great—and not just for a "woman of a certain age," as she's dubbed.
Precisely because of its lack of ambition, Ocean's functions as the cinematic equivalent of undemanding summertime beach reading. You just have to forgive a lot, from trailers that play out the best jokes to the rehashed sentimental wrap-up, which replaces the Bellagio fountain with a fireworks display. Soderbergh can no more put the fizz back in his flat bubbly than one can put a genie back in a bottle, but at least Ocean's Thirteen can still give you a light buzz.