A world-on-a-string kind of movie that restores a goodwill shine to the all-star series, Ocean’s Thirteen is a slick, pleasurable romp — a populist slice of entertainment that serves as a reminder of just how much fun summer movies can be. It plays like a stone skipping across water, like an old standard belted out effortlessly by a nouveau-style crooner, and it should absolutely slay at the box office, driven by mainstream, cross-demographic appeal and positive word-of-mouth.
The story dumps Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew — including Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) — back in Las Vegas, where they take a run at amoral hotelier and mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino), who’s cheated Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) out of his share of a new development, and induced in him a heart attack that’s left Reuben virtually catatonic. In a Robin Hood-esque plan, the gang conspires — in advance of Banks’ gala opening launch — to rig all the dice games, slots, blackjack tables, etcetera, at his casino, busting Banks’ bank and returning $500 million in winnings to patrons before inducing a cash-out by simulating an earthquake.
Utilizing “up-river” devices and trickery both low-fi and technologically advanced, this scheme requires that they trump an almost laughably advanced artificial intelligence security system and — eventually, when in a pinch — solicit the financial backing of former nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), a ploy that comes with its own set of dangers and conditions. It’s not just financial revenge that the guys are concerned with, however. They also set out to undermine Banks’ coveted and highly prestigious “Five Diamond” rating by making sure that the writer (David Paymer) assigned to cover the hotel opening has a miserable experience.
Distended, smug and stricken with a steep rate of depreciation, Ocean’s Twelve was faux-sly, its winking half-assedness substituting for subversiveness. In short, it was the sort of movie you walk out of with an uneasy smile, trying to convince yourself it was enjoyable. Penned by Brian Koppelman and David Levien — who with 1998’s underrated Rounders showed that they know their way around the jargon-filled world of gaming and gambling — this re-up is a return to roots, of sorts. Thankfully jettisoning Julia Roberts and any major angles of romantic intrigue, Ocean’s Thirteen is blithely unconcerned with lasting relationships, except to the degree that its plot is driven by fraternal devotion.
In focusing solely and clearly on the here and now, the film recaptures and in fact fortifies a big part of what made the first movie such a blast of fresh fun — namely, Clooney and Pitt looking dapper, a well-heeled ensemble expressing guy’s-guy exasperation with one another, and a rakish, revenge-fed heist/criminal story set on a 45-degree, downhill slope. Pleasingly paced and powered by a great soundtrack — David Holmes’ original score pulses along courtesy of a nice drum-and-bass line, with chiming chords scattered around it like tiny diamonds on bejeweled wristwear — this snappy, perfectly fizzy summer concoction delivers in smashing fashion on every plane on which it competes. (Warner Bros., PG-13, 122 minutes)