"You don't run the same gag twice," instructs munitions wizard Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) in Ocean's Thirteen. "You run the next gag."
Director Steven Soderbergh and his band of brothers don't take their own advice for this third installment of the caper franchise, in which George Clooney's Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt's Rusty Ryan lead their band of criminals through assorted heists and scams.
After an artier, more indulgent, audience-alienating European trip for Ocean's Twelve, Soderbergh and crew return to Vegas for a naked attempt at repeating the considerable charms of their original Ocean's Eleven (itself a remake of a lazy Rat Pack flick), and the gambit works well enough.
Soderbergh has made more prestigious pictures (picking up a Best Director Oscar for his drug-trade epic Traffic), but Ocean's Eleven is his most durably entertaining work, maybe the most purely entertaining movie of the decade. Finding a midway point between the energizing style-and-substance of Ocean's Eleven and the slack navel-gazing of Ocean's Twelve, Ocean's Thirteen is a diminished retread of the initial effort but still quite engaging.
Instead of setting out for a big score, Ocean and his crew are bent on revenge this time. At the outset, Vegas mogul Willie Bank (Al Pacino) double-crosses avuncular regular Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) out of his share of a new Vegas hotel casino. In response, Ocean and the gang reconvene to try and ruin Bank's opening night, which requires rigging every game in the casino so that the house loses.
The caper mechanics aren't quite as interesting or thought-through this time, though there are plenty of memorable bits: Casey Affleck's Virgil Malloy is sent to a Mexican dice factory to ensure that properly tampered product finds its way to Vegas and instead foments a workers' revolt. This fantasy land is also more of a boys' club than ever: With Julia Roberts MIA, Ellen Barkin moves in as the film's designated female character but is stuck playing only one side of the fence — the wrong one.
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