As I’m getting this in just under the wire for it to still officially be a Saturday post, it should be clear that I’m still highly distracted by a bevy of other responsibilities, compromising my ability to transcribe some old review and making the idea of simply cutting and pasting an online offering from my former digital home all too appealing. With this, I come fairly close to having all of my writing on Steven Soderbergh films in one place. Hardly momentous, but it’s nice nonetheless.
The new film Ocean’s 13 abounds with lessons learned from the disastrously smug 2004 sequel that all but eradicated any goodwill developed by the unexpectedly delightful 2001 blockbuster remake that introduced moviegoers to Danny Ocean (or at least his modern variant) and his band of frothy felons. After 12‘s ill-conceived globe-trotting, as if the film franchise was trying to morph into a sleek, chic, over-populated version of the Bond films, director Steven Soderbergh brings the crew back to sin city, U.S.A. for another Las Vegas caper. And after the romantic diversions provided by Catherine Zeta-Jones and the meta-showboating set pieces for for Julia Roberts proved equally momentum deadening in the prior film, the new effort has been brought in at a lean fighting weight. Not only is it a “no girls allowed” zone (nearly, Ellen Barkin does get invited to play), but the actual plot takes mere seconds to kick in with exposition and character moments kept to a bare minimum.
The paring of the character details dulls the impact somewhat–it was Soderbergh’s directorial deftness with the sprawling cast as much as the agreeably twisty plot that really made the first film work–but it does give the film a much needed focus. Everything is about the new crime, an elaborate sabotage of a casino opening as a act of retribution against it owner, played with colossal indifference by Al Pacino. The construction of the undertaking lacks 11‘s spirited panache and engrossing exactitude of pros doing their job well, but when it all comes together it does so with the precision of vault lock tumblers falling into place. In a way, that’s satisfying enough.
Ocean’s 13 isn’t likely to be mistaken for high art, nor does it achieve the glossy heights of expertly made entertainment. It’s a moderately well-constructed digression, not especially memorable but never off-putting or prone to blockheaded wrong turns. It’s a summer movie, made for reheated popcorn and air conditioned theaters, with few aspirations beyond entertaining. It reaches that goal just fine.