13 is not an unlucky number for this Steven Soderbergh directed franchise. With many a blockbuster presenting their third installments this summer - Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Bourne and the likes, Ocean's 13 bested those that have already gone before, with something light and breezy, although rehashing the tried and tested formula employed in Ocean's Eleven.
I've always enjoyed heist movies, and Ocean's Eleven was a very smart one at that, given the bonus of having assembled some of the top names in Hollywood and having some of them play second fiddle. It was thoroughly fun, and I thought it had a very smart exit strategy. Ocean's Twelve however was a little flat, as the ending was a bit of a cop out, and didn't really excite with its smart alecky narration finale. The only memorable events from Ocean's Twelve were Bruce Willis and how Arsenal football club was weaved into the proceedings.
Ocean's 13 leaves behind Europe and returns to where the action started, back to Vegas, where Willie Bank (Al Pacino), the most unscrupulous man on the strip, plays out Reuben (Elliott Gould) of their joint casino hotel The Midas - now renamed The Bank hotel, and causes the latter to suffer from a stroke. The rest of the Ocean gang, led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) are pissed, and congregate back in Las Vegas to seek revenge the best way they know how - to steal and to humiliate Bank on the opening night of his new casino.
And we welcome back the friends we know from the previous two movies, with Brad Pitt as Rusty Ryan the right hand man, who also opened this movie as he did the previous installment, Matt Damon as Linus Caldwell, who is looking to break out of the shadows of Danny and Rusty to prove his worth, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Qin Shaobo the kungfu kid, Casey Affleck, Scott Cann, Carl Reiner and Eddie Izzard. There's no Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones, both of whom were written out of the movie early, between conversational pieces of Danny and Rusty. Gone are the two leading ladies, only to be replaced by a very wrinkled Ellen Barkin as Abigail Sponder, the personal assistant to Bank.
The chemistry amongst the thieving team remains intact, as once again we experience the camaraderie amongst the sarcasm and wit, with the banter between Danny and Rusty being pure gold, especially their final exchange with real life references. However, the scene stealer here (the other contender being Carl Reiner's absolutely hilarious role) is definitely Matt Damon. Still wanting to get into the thick of the action, and ever ready to volunteer for key roles, his Linus Caldwell is a hoot to watch, especially when he goes under disguise. A far departure from his more serious roles, like the upcoming Bourne Ultimatum (also the concluding part of the franchise), he fits that mummy's / daddy's boy figure to a T.
While we get to return to the Bellagio, and with spanners thrown into our jolly men's plans, Ocean's Thirteen does feel a little dragged out. The structure's the same, with the middle part hinging on the setting up of the elaborate plan, leaving the final moments for the execution and the exit strategy with a twist. Sometimes having too much of a good thing do make the pace a little wonky. There's nothing really new to expect, except that Soderbergh actually went a step ahead and pulled the rug from under the audience's feet, and it's a clever little rouse involving the trailers you see for the movie. Now that's pure gem.
What should put bum onto the seats will be the return of familiar faces into the roles, and in all honesty, a franchise episode that actually feels refreshed.