If Hollywood can make a trilogy out of a movie, they will. Actually, they will make as many sequels as they feel will make money for them, no matter how dumb anyone believes a story to be. I only saw one of the Saw movies, the third one I think, but that was enough to know how ridiculous they are. They made nine of those torture porn flicks. My apologies to anyone who is a fan of the series, but I cannot think of any other way of describing them. It helps, though, that they were able to change out characters from sequel-to-sequel, which is helped by a high death rate. What is remarkable about the Ocean’s films is that they feature large, star-studded ensembles who must remain together from throughout the run of movies. Each actor demands more money with each subsequent iteration, increasing the risk of profit loss with each installment. There is also the trickiness of juggling relationships between actors on set. Big time celebrities often have egos that are difficult to balance against each other. Trying to get enough screen time for more than a dozen talented players is difficult, to say the least. I do not know which of these factors contributed to Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones not reprising their roles in Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), but their absence is conspicuous. It is perhaps the only drawback of an otherwise solid third part of the franchise.
Because Tess Ocean (Julia Roberts) and Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are not in Ocean’s Thirteen, you need a different event to get the familiar conmen back together. This comes when their former financier from the previous films, Las Vegas casino owner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) suffers a heart attack. One could blame a lifetime of cigar smoking and other lifestyle choices as contributing to this sudden affliction. Yet, the main culprit is a business deal with up-and-coming entrepreneur Willy Bank (Al Pacino) out of which Reuben is cheated, which was for the biggest, newest, most state-of-the-art casino on the famous Vegas Strip. When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) learns of the health of his friend, he goes to see Willy to offer the new sole owner the opportunity to make things right, citing the code amongst people who had shaken Frank Sinatra’s hand. When Willy refuses, Danny’s path is clear. Using the bedridden Reuben’s home as a base for their operations, they plan an elaborate series of small and big cons designed to avenge the near death of their friend. Much of this involves money, rigging the various games and machines in Willy’s new casino in order to cause him to lose as much revenue as possible. Not all of it is designed to threaten Willy’s cash flow. One of the things that has made him successful is that every casino and hotel he has opened has gone on to receive the coveted “Five Diamond Award.” After paying off a few key people, Danny learns the identity of the judge (David Paymer) sent to assess whether or not Willy’s establishment is worthy of the prestigious prize. This poor soul is given a rough reception, forced to occupy a room he had not booked, subjected to foul stenches, given all sorts of gross substances that cause him to break out in hives and rashes, and is generally maltreated wherever he goes in the resort. However, their biggest problem is how to get everyone out the front door with all their earnings instead of reinvesting it in the casino. The solution: buy the drill that dug the “Chunnel,” the tunnel under the English Channel between England and France, in order to cut into the building’s foundations and make it appear that it is undergoing an earthquake. As you can guess, such machines do not come cheap. In order to find the extra capital they need, they turn to their adversary from the first two films Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Though not inclined to help Danny given their past, he agrees to assist because he sees Willy as competition, lacking taste. However, there is a condition: Danny and his cohorts must steal the diamonds that Willy has collected from his hotel awards, a job that appears as impossible. Hence, on the appointed night when they put in motion all their schemes to take Willy down, Danny sends Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon) to pull off this part of the heist. They are also prepared when Terry attempts a double cross, using François Toulour (Vincent Cassel), the Ocean crew’s competitor from the previous movie, to take the jewels when Linus seems set to make off with them. François base jumps from the top of the casino, but he realizes after he lands that he has once more been hoodwinked by Danny when the actual gems are transported by helicopter. With everything almost complete, Danny meets up with Willy one last time as he leaves the casino, making it clear that it was Willy’s actions towards Reuben that led to this disaster. And because Terry had tried to double-cross them, they donate his share of the take to charity. Job done, they all go their separate ways, with Linus apparently taking on a larger con.
Ocean’s Thirteen returns to more of the heist formula that I guess people wanted in the previous two films. In my review of them, I talk about how the first two are more love stories than about stealing anything, though theft does occur. To give this one the thieves with hearts of gold feel of the others, they make it about getting even for a person they all seem to love in respect in Reuben. The resident old timer in the crew, Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner) speaks to the dangers of doing a con job out of revenge. Any mission of this nature is not without peril. Those involved can be arrested, or worse. Revenge is an emotional response, and Saul reminds Danny and Robert “Rusty” Ryan (Brad Pitt) that emotions make it impossible to walk away from a job when threats grow and risks increase. Still, this does not stop any of them from wanting to get back at Willy, with Saul at one point enthusiastically proclaiming that this is war. In talking about the two preceding flicks, I lamented that the Catholic in me wishes that these evidently talented men could put their talents to better use. Revenge fits in the same category, which is compounded by the fact that they are stealing money and putting lives at risk. Saul also alludes to another outcome of such actions, and that is the collateral damage involved. Revenge and war are messy affairs, and that is a big reason why the Bible preaches against them. People take these actions because of a sense of wrong they feel. It is natural. At the same time, there is a final arbiter of all wrongs, and that is God. If we rely on His providence, we can rest assured that all will be made right in the end. Then again, if that was how Danny and company thought, there would be no movie.
Like Ocean’s Twelve (2004), there are many that do not like Ocean’s Thirteen. I am fine with it. Ultimately, the reason I enjoy all of them is because of the interactions between the characters. There is a lot that is unspoken between them that is easy enough to understand, but also seems to indicate a familiarity between everyone that is just fun. I will take a slight lack of originality over the majority of slop Hollywood flings at us.