ocean’s 13

16 06 2007

Steven Soderbergh 2007

The problem with these big cast franchises is the Star Trek problem of finding everybody something to do. The focus isn’t as firmly on Clooney this time as he isn’t the originator of the plan, so the others have a bit of breathing space. Matt Damon comes off best; a leading man elsewhere, he has so far been the junior member of Ocean’s crew, but 13 is his coming of age. With a big fake nose.

Carl Reiner essays a far more successful English accent than Don Cheadle’s weirdly-accented Basher, who spends most of his time fiddling with a large drill but is compensated with a flamboyant scene pretending to be a stunt motorcyclist. Bernie Mac, however, only gets one decent line for a film’s worth of hanging around. Shaobo Qin displays a bit more attitude and there’s plenty of life in the running gag that he doesn’t speak English. Eddie Jemison is saddled with being the least cool of the gang, although nothing is ever what it seems.

Scott Caan and Casey Affleck are the best served outside of the leading troika, with a whole subplot involving their infiltration of a dice factory and their involvement in industrial relations proving a comic highlight.

At the heart of it all is Elliott Gould’s Reuben, whose heart attack provides the catalyst for the job. He doesn’t do much but drift around in his pyjamas, but you feel for him anyway.

Reuben has been laid low after Al Pacino’s casino boss screwed him over in a business deal. Affronted, Ocean’s crew decide to take him for everything he’s got. For once, it’s not about winning everything, as making sure the other guy loses everything. What this adds up to is a series of complex cons to make sure that the casino’s grand opening breaks the bank.

This means several additions to the cast, including a criminally underused Eddie Izzard and a typical hard-luck turn from David Paymer.

The marquee names are poorly treated, however. Pacino’s Willy Bank is more clown fish than shark. Despite all the Godfather references, his meeting with Andy Garcia is disappointingly limp. We only know he’s tough because he’s Al Pacino, rather than from anything in the script.

Worse is Ellen Barkin, whose supposedly icy enforcer Sponder comes across like Cameron Diaz’s halfwit aunt. Olga Sosnovska’s Debbie is much more interesting. Her role should have been expanded to take over Sponder’s, giving a slinky frisson to the Ocean/Rusty/Linus troika and perhaps tempting Ocean and Rusty from the straight and narrow with their respective partners (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts, neither of whom show up here).

Julian Sands is also criminally limp in a role that David Thewlis, say, would have seized by the scruff of the neck (were all the decent British actors too busy with Potter…?)

More knockabout than previous entries, 13 virtually invites you to disengage your brain and just feel the comedy, as the dialogue and story is frequently impenetrable until the second viewing. Fortunately it is pretty funny, and pretty charming, but despite the complexity of the various scams the whole thing still tends to flabby – just like the leads.

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