'Ocean's Thirteen': steal crazy after all these years

The fun third 'Ocean' flick brings the festivities back to Las Vegas, where the series began.

The most enjoyable thing about the "Ocean's" movies is that nobody involved seems to take them seriously. The star wattage is immense but the stars themselves are refreshingly self-deprecating, almost satirically so.

"Ocean's Thirteen" brings the festivities back to Las Vegas, where the series began with "Ocean's Eleven." ("Ocean's Twelve" was set in Europe.) The Vegas Strip, that tribute to greed and glitz, is the appropriate abode for the franchise; it's not only the place where dreams are made, it's also where they are cashed in.

The new story line is all about revenge. Reuben (Elliott Gould), the friend and mentor of Danny Ocean (George Clooney), has been cheated out of his part ownership in The Bank, the Strip's most extravagant new hotel-casino operated by predatory potentate Willy Bank (Al Pacino). To exact retribution, Danny and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) regroup the federation, which includes characters played by Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Bernie Mac, and Matt Damon. The plan is brutally simple: Break Willy Bank and his Bank.

How they prepare for this is half the fun.

A manufacturing plant in Mexico where dice are made is infiltrated, a camera is hidden in Bank's office, slot machines and card shufflers are fixed, an earth tremor under the casino is simulated.

Director Steven Soderbergh and his screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who once wrote an intriguing gambling movie called "Rounders," recognize that to make all this malarkey work you need two things (a) a cast with effortless charisma and (b) a villain worth hating.

Both requirements are met. Clooney is never so at home as a performer as when he's striding through a glitter palace in his tux. This may not qualify as acting, exactly, but who cares? (Actually, I'd argue that Clooney is a better performer in the "Ocean's" movies than he was in, say, Soderbergh's brackish art film "The Good German.") The other actors, especially Carl Reiner, are also having a high old time. The clan's easygoing throwaway banter has some of the charm of the old Hope-Crosby "Road" pictures.

As for the villain, Pacino makes Bank so eminently loathsome that watching his demise is like witnessing a bug being pulled apart. Most actors love playing bad guys. With Pacino, that love borders on adoration.

At times, "Ocean's Thirteen" coasts on its star power rather than being propelled by it, and some of the set pieces are clunky in the "Towering Inferno" mode. There is also a subplot about an undercover evaluator (David Paymer) for a top-ranked hotel award Bank craves that is a bit too punitive. The poor guy is targeted by the clan and his life made miserable. It's hard not to think that the filmmakers are using this critic as payback for all the bad reviews they've ever received.

That shouldn't be an issue this time around. Grade: A–

Rated PG-13 for brief sensuality.

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