Eddie Izzard’s suave techno-guru seems to round out a dapper baker’s dozen of likeable thieves in Ocean’s Thirteen. But the scam in this second sequel to 2001’s remake of 1960’s original slides so far down the socio-economic chute that the 13th man feels more like the average Joe or Jane.
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and company continue strutting in shiny shirts, while writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien craft a thrillingly elaborate casino con to again enliven the franchise. Rebounding from Ocean’s Twelve, a separate script into which characters were shoehorned, this specifically written tale smartly pits the 13 against Las Vegas’s zeroes and ones.
The crew’s vibe of charitable generosity also runs far deeper than a chuckle-worthy callout from these actor friends of Oprah. Perhaps it’s a subtle response from director Steven Soderbergh to critique of Ocean’s films as larks that rubbed it in the faces of have-nots. Perhaps it’s coincidence. Either way, acknowledging that service employees and factory workers make casinos tick — and factoring them into the plan — is a welcome wrinkle in pressed-suit professionalism on display.
Past capers tackled love and honor, so this one’s about friendship. Cigar-chomping entrepreneur Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) waves off advice to avoid dealing with Willy Bank (Al Pacino), a sharp-toothed reptile with a spray-on tan and an ego as tall as the Stratosphere Tower. Soon after Willy gyps him out of co-owning a new casino-hotel, Reuben suffers a heart attack from stress.
Six months later, Reuben is still in recovery, and his cohorts — led by Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt) — have a harpoon aimed at Bank’s Asian-themed casino “built for whales.”
On opening night, they’ll rig its craps, blackjack and roulette tables, along with its slots, in a 3 1/2-minute window to pay out $500 million and put Bank in bad with investors. A sidebar flim-flam is swindling part of Bank’s pride — an unbroken run of Five Diamond awards for hotel excellence.
In need of a bankroll after depleting their cash stash, Ocean and crew must call in vicious Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the casino magnate they’ve crossed twice before. Benedict wants his own revenge on Bank, a competitor whose DNA helix-designed hotel is casting a shadow over his pool.
Every word from Bank drips with disingenuousness (especially asking guests “Are you having a nice day?”), all part of Pacino’s best villain role since Dick Tracy. Allowed to look every one of his 67 years, Pacino has ridiculous hair highlights and Soderbergh’s direction toward a quieter menace.
Because Bank makes Benedict look like a Boy Scout, there’s an even greater delight in seeing his takedown. Plus, Ocean’s crew isn’t sidelined as in Twelve — not even Reuben, in incrementally sweet moments — and Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan and Carl Reiner all have great bits.
If there’s any miscalculation, it’s repeating one Twelve gag and making Ocean’s Thirteen something other than a stag party. (Not-so-subtle aliases like Chubb and Wang aren’t for nothing.)
Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones are MIA (but respectfully mentioned in conversation), but Ellen Barkin stars as Abigail, Bank’s right-hand woman. Billed as Barkin’s comeback bid, Abigail’s not as saucy as she could be before becoming a hormonal puddle for clutzy novice Linus Caldwell (Damon). That Linus remains shaky with the long con after two go-rounds also is silly.
Still, Ocean and company are praised for their style, brio and loyalty, and the same could strongly be applied to this latest adventure. The script mentions an unwritten code among those who’ve shaken Frank Sinatra’s hand, and this plants a similarly assured cool-business clasp as the 2001 remake.